Like so many tourism businesses on Vancouver Island, Merridale Cidery & Distillery began with a desire to leave city living behind and return to the simplicity of country life. Janet Docherty and Rick Pipes had accomplished quite a bit in their professional lives when the inspiration to start a cidery struck. At the time there was very little by way of locally grown cider and they spotted a niche that was needing to be filled. They purchased property in the Cowichan Valley, considered by many to be the bread basket of Vancouver Island and got down to work.
Merridale Distillery Building
Rick put his education in fermentation and distillation to work, first with creating cider and then a few years later expanding to gin, brandy and even vodka. In fact, in 2013 they became the first craft distillery certified in BC. But it wasn’t just agriculture that these two had in mind. They understood the importance of creating an experience for their customers that went beyond their product. They wanted to explore the full potential of their venture, and share Merridale as a whole with their costomers.
The Farmhouse Eatery with performer Dylan Stone
They made connections with the local tourism industry and opened their property up to tours and special events. They built a restaurant, gift shop, tasting room, and most surprising of all, set up two luxury yurts on the property that can be rented by guests. Today, Janet and Rick sit on several tourism-related boards on Vancouver Island, assisting in development of the tourism industry.
One of two luxury yurts that can be rented
Thinking about taking a trip to Merridale Cidery? Why not try our Taste of Cowichan tour!
Most people, even Vancouver Island residents themselves, would be surprised to learn that the Island is roughly the same size in km2 as Taiwan. Formed hundreds of million years ago, this large and ancient piece of land holds many exciting secrets beneath the surface. With more limestone caves located on the Island than all of the Canadian provinces combined, Vancouver Island holds the highest concentration of caves in North America (over 1,000 discovered so far).
Horne Lake Cave trail
These caves are the hosts of delicate ecosystems, preserved over millennia. Unfortunately, due to a lack of education on the importance of these underground systems, industrial activities such as mining and logging have put these systems in jeopardy. Further degradation occurred in the early days of the 20th century from tourists visiting the caves without understanding the impact their presence could have. Because of this, a community effort was made to protect the Horne Lake area from further degradation. In the 1970’s the Horne Lake area was granted provincial park status, entrusting it with protection from industrial activity. In the 1980’s a management plan was created to further protect the caves from vandalism.
Guided cave tour
Today, Horne Lake Caves is well-known as one of Vancouver Island’s best eco-tourism sites. Emphasis is placed on environmental stewardship, education and personal challenge. There are guided options for a variety of ages and abilities within the many caves. From a quick one hour tour down Canada’s only cave slide, to a five hour tour of the Riverbend cave ending in a seven storey rappel down the Rainbarrel waterfall.
Limestone cave formations
In addition to the caving activities, the community of Horne Lake is also host to a variety of other outdoor activities including hiking, rock rappelling, swimming, and fishing to name a few. Interested in checking out Horne Lake Caves for yourself? Why not try our Caves, Waterfalls & Old Growth Forests.
Vancouver Island seems to attract those looking to follow their passions. In view of Mount Benson’s south-facing slope, in a unique micro-climate nestled in Nanaimo’s rural Jinglepot area, you can find a family doing just that. The Rigas purchased the five-acre Chateau Wolff property after years of working in the restaurant business. They initially opened the Port Bistro-Pub in Trenton, Ontario in 2011 with Matt working as a chef, and Natalie working the front-of-house.
Soon this duo found themselves visiting vineyards and wineries on their days off, enjoying a glass of wine together, and imagining owning a property of their own. After three years of successfully operating their restaurant, they decided to take the leap. They sold their restaurant and moved to Vancouver Island in pursuit of their dream.
Luckily for them Harry Von Wolff, the original owner, had planted his quality vines in the early 90’s which produced mostly Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. The Rigas didn’t waste any time after their big move and the birth of their daughter, Siena. With the help of friends and family they set about learning the ins and outs of winemaking. Their efforts paid off, and in 2015 they saw their first harvest.
View of Mount Benson
Today, this boutique-style winery is known for it’s Chardonnay, Syrah, Pinot Noir, and a fortified red called Rouge, which can be found in many local stores and restaurants. You can visit their intimate tasting room or enjoy the rustic elegance of their property while on our Taste of Nanaimo tour!