Heritage Orchard Takes Ninth Consecutive First Place in Cider Contest

March 4, 2014


Making great sweet apple cider starts with one thing—Apples. Heritage Orchard, overlooking the east shore of Lake Winnebago, has had the "right" apples year after year. 2014 marks the ninth time Heritage Orchard has won the Wisconsin Apple Growers Association annual cider contest.

Vern and Ann Gasch purchased Heritage Orchard in 1976, but their history with the land and the trees goes back three generations earlier. The Gasches were involved with the planting, care and operation of the orchard when it was known as Erickson's Orchard. Now, Vern and Ann's son, Adam, has joined the operation and will become the fourth generation of Gasch's to care for the trees

What makes a great sweet cider? Vern says it's the apples. They need to be good quality and ripe, so they explode with that full-bodied flavor.

"You can't pick them green," Vern said. "And you need to keep your equipment clean too."

Vern said there's no secret ingredient to their cider. Heritage's recipe includes a variety of apples including Empire, Jonagold, Ida Red and Red and Golden Delicious.

He says the land also plays an important part. "We have heavy clay soil, and I believe that produces apples with better flavor," Vern said.

David Wildes of Appleberry Farm in Cross Plains took second place in the competition with his combination of Ida Red, Russets, Northern Spy and Connell Red apples. The Wildes have operated Appleberry Farm for 10 years and provide a family-oriented experience with hayrides, a duck pond and chickens to feed.

Third place in the cider competition went to Duane Odalen of Apple Ridge Orchard in Ellsworth. Odalen's used Enterprise, Spartan, Empire, Jonathan and Honeycrisp apples in their winning cider.

New WAGA president

Wisconsin apple growers are passing the leadership torch onto the next generation. In recent years, some new, younger faces have been discussing issues around the WAGA Board table, and now the man at the head of that table represents the next generation as well.

Andy Ferguson, of Ferguson's Orchard, was elected president of the WAGA at the group's annual meeting in January.

As President of WAGA, Ferguson wants to build relationships with other Wisconsin producer organizations so that specialty crops as an industry can have a larger, unified voice when needed. He will strive to continue WAGA's support of the University of Wisconsin and UW-Extension's research efforts and wants to continue to provide resources to support apple growers across the state.

Ferguson first became involved in the family business when his parents, Tom and Deb Ferguson, purchased their original Galesville orchard in 2002 when he was just 16 years old. That involvement continued as he was an undergraduate student at the University of Minnesota and later a graduate of the University of Wisconsin Law School. Ferguson is also fluent in Spanish after spending six months abroad studying in Spain.

As a current owner of Ferguson's Orchards, along with his parents, Andy has played a key role in the family business. His law degree concentration on real estate, contracts and business management came in handy when they purchased the former Eau Claire Orchard and expanded to four retail stores in Wisconsin and Minnesota.

Currently Andy serves as the project manager for the orchard's 40,000 Pazazz tree planting that will take place this spring; manages the Eau Claire retail store and agri-tainment enterprises; and is in charge of business development, finding new ways to grow the business. With all that, he admits that he still gets plenty of opportunity to mow, spray, plant and supervise workers.

Ferguson's main goal for the orchard is to grow the business so it can support future generations. He sees that happening in two ways. First, they want to provide high-quality apples direct to their customers while providing a place for families to experience, in a farm setting, fall agri-tainment. Second, they want to continue to replant the orchard into high-value, high-density production to keep up with market demands.

Ferguson takes a national view of the industry. In 2012 and again in 2014, he was selected as one of the 12 "Young Apple Leaders" from across the country by USApple. This has given him the opportunity to travel to Washington D.C. and represent the industry to our nation's lawmakers.

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