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Cidery eyes Mills River for new plant

Bold Rock Hard Cider has optioned property at Broadpointe Industrial Park in Mills River. Bold Rock Hard Cider has optioned property at Broadpointe Industrial Park in Mills River.

MILLS RIVER — A Virginia-based hard cider maker with a regional distribution network and aggressive growth plan has optioned land and is in the final review stages for a plant in Broadpointe Industrial Park.

Bold Rock Hard Cider, of Nellysford, Va., selected the Mills River location after evaluating sites in East Tennessee and the South Carolina Upstate and other prospects in North Carolina.
"We fell in love with Mills River," company owner John Washburn said in an interview on Friday from Asheville, where he is hosting the cidery's booth at the Beer City Festival on Saturday. "It's nearly the craft beer capital — well, it is the craft beer capital of North Carolina and maybe the East Coast, and Mills River has a nice rural feel. We're centered on apples and Mills River seemed to fit the bill."
The opening of a big cider maker would become the latest entry in the new boom in Henderson County of craft beer, wine and hard cider. Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. is across the French Broad River from Broadpointe Industrial Park. Just this month, local investors held a public launch of Naked Apple Hard Cider, a Flat Rock based cidery that makes hard and bottles hard cider from local apples. And Henderson County's three-year-old wine industry has gotten off to a strong start, attracting local visitors and tourists.
Washburn, a North Carolina native, said when he became interested in hard cider he sought advice from international hard cider consultant Brian Shanks. The two formed a partnership and started the cidery in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia.
Andrew Tate, president of the Henderson County Partnership for Economic Development, said the area would benefit from the new manufacturing plant.
"We have been working with them on a number of support mechanisms that would make our community more competitive for the project," he said. "It will be a significant impact to the tax base and will add quality jobs and quality wages to this area."
Mills River Town Manager Jaime Laughter confirmed the company's interest.
"It's under due diligence and we are working with the company and the county to see if it's going to be a feasible project," she said.
Washburn praised Mills River and Henderson County.
Aside from the rural character of Mills River, he said, he has been encouraged by the enthusiasm of the local Anheuser Busch distributor, the reception he's gotten from local people, the guidance from civil engineer Bill Lapsley, who was elected to the Board of Commissioners on May 6, and the help from Tate, the economic development recruiter.
"You have the most passionate Budweiser distributor I've ever met and we have 16 of them now," Washburn said. For the past six months, he knocked on doors, "not wearing my Bold Rock hat," and talked to people about the area. "There was a very genuine element that I found in Henderson County," he said.
When he had a question, he called Tate.
"He is a star for Henderson County," he said. "I don't think there'll be a fantastic array of incentives but he's been fantastic. If I ask him anything he gets an answer. If you call him, he calls back in 5 minutes."
Some Henderson County farmers had raised concerns about an out-of-state company using Virginia-grown apples. Washburn said not to worry; he plans to use Henderson County apples. He has not made contacts and negotiated contracts to buy, he said, because he has had to keep the expansion under wraps.
"One of the reasons we picked the area is that Mills River has a rural feel but it's an up and coming rural, not a down rural," he said.
Bold Rock is expected to widen its distribution to Atlanta and other areas with its new Western North Carolina base.
"Asheville's a delight," Washburn said. "Going down the list, the interstates are here. Best distributor. Best county. Apples. The time for hard cider has come."