It was a moment of soul searching that brought Eric and Liza Cioffi from the Central Coast of California to central Virginia where they are hoping for a fresh start with a crisp finish.
This spring, along with Eric Cioffi’s father Paul, they’ll look to become the latest startup in the local craft booze scene when they launch Courthouse Creek Cidery in Goochland.
The cidery will sit on a 10-acre parcel of land at 1581 Maidens Road that the husband-and-wife team bought in 2013 and where they have also built a home.
Plans for Courthouse Creek Cidery include a 3,000-square-foot production facility and an 800 to 1,000-square-foot tasting room.
The property is also where they eventually hope to grow the fruit for their labor.
“The goal is to source 100 percent from our orchard but that’s going to take time,” Eric Cioffi said. “It’s a very classic small winery model.”
On seven acres of their land, they’ll plant 30 different American, English and French cider apple varieties, along with a small lot for pears.
The Cioffis plan to apply for a farm winery ABC license that requires them to source 51 percent of their apples from the Commonwealth, Eric said. Courthouse Creek will use apples from nearby orchards until its trees start producing.
Eric, 45, said both he and Liza, 39, always had the dream to start a farm of their own. Liza taught for 10 years in a one-room school house in Parkfield, California. Eric practiced law and also worked in the food and wine industry.
At some point, Eric said he caught the “wine bug.”
But the costs of breaking into the California wine scene proved too high. The Cioffs have four children in addition to several pets.
“We sort of have the modern day Brady Bunch going on,” Eric said. “A 10-acre piece of land over there would have broken the bank.”
As they were looking for a more affordable fresh start, Eric landed a job a with a Richmond law firm. He and Liza came to visit the area and were reminded of how the Central Coast in California used to be.
“It was almost like traveling back 10 or 15 years ago to what was happening in California,” he said. “We saw a lot of that same foundation that we saw explode in California.”
So in 2013 they moved the family to Richmond. Eric eventually left the Richmond law firm and closed on the purchase of the Goochland property for $135,000 and built a house.
They quickly began researching the property’s soil and found it promising for wine making. Ultimately, a weekend visit to Albemarle Cider Works changed the Cioffis minds, if not their palates.
“We walked into their tasting room and I tasted a premium Virginia cider,” Eric Cioffi said. “We thought, ‘Why not go with what the Tidewater was designed for?’”
So Courthouse Creek Cider was born, named for a creek that runs near the property. Cider production for retail sale will begin in fall 2015 and the tasting room will be open spring 2016. The Cioffis hope to eventually go into commercial production and distribution.
Eric would not say how much it will cost to open Courthouse Creek Cider.
“We look at it from two sides: the orchard and the cidery,” he said of the startup costs. “The cidery is going to be two times the cost of the orchard.”
He said he is friends with owner of Strangeways Brewing and that he is encouraged by the popularity of the craft beer scene and consumers’ willingness to try new things.
The craft alcohol craze has also already reached another Goochland County farm.
“We’ve got Lickinghole Brewery right up the road,” Eric Cioffi said. “I think ours will be similar but more of that farmstead, real traditional farm style tasting room.”
As for the transition from California and the move into a new career field, Eric said the change hasn’t been without it’s trying times, but he’s happy with the decision.
“You can read about it in a book all day but until you do it, it’s radically different,” he said. “The reality is I didn’t want to end up dead from a heart attack from overwork and not pursue my passion.”