Tapping into a new market — wine but no grapes

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Westerly — It’s a routine question at the Tapped Apple Cidery & Winery.

“People will ask, ‘Where do you get your grapes,’” said John Wiedenheft IV, Tapped Apple’s chief operating officer. “And we tell them, ‘It’s apples, not grapes,’ and they always say, ‘Well, it tastes like a grape wine.’”

Fifteen years ago, Wiedenheft IV, and his father, John Wiedenheft III, started making apple wine at their homes in Norwich. Friends and family enjoyed what they shared and after numerous requests to buy it, they finally opened their wine and cider bar 20 months ago in downtown Westerly.

Today, the younger Wiedenheft heads up the winemaking, which recently was moved from their retail location on High Street to Westerly’s industrial park. Two 400-gallon fermentation tanks are still in the wine bar, but the 17 300-gallon aging tanks were moved out to make more room for customers, who come in for a glass or carafe of wine or cider, or to buy a bottle or fill their growler.

It was Wiedenheft IV who suggested to his father that he replace the bulk grapes he was buying from Washington state and California with a local and more affordable product — apples — in the early 2000s.

The son wanted to join his father in his home winemaking hobby, but buying 500-pound bins of grapes shipped across the country to Hartford was just too pricey.

They did some research and experimented with making wine with apple cider that the two bought initially from Holmberg Orchard’s in Gales Ferry, and they never went back to grapes.

Today, they get their cider from Sunset Orchard in North Scituate, Rhode Island. Sunset grows, crushes and presses the fruit and the winemakers use the end product.

“We like to get a blend of apples,” said Wiedenheft III, the self-described “chief wine taster."

“We like to use a lot of Russets and Cortlands, and we have a single variety Gravenstein that’s on tap right now,” added his son.

Recently, he’s used some crabapples and elderberries and he’s looking at pears, explaining different fruits and varieties change the flavor.

“There are apples that are high in tannins and apples that are high in acids and apples that are high in sugar, and we want just the right blend of each of those,” Wiedenheft IV explained.

“If we use a McIntosh, it’s just a little bit because of the smell, the nose side of it, but not a ton because it doesn’t have enough acid and tannins,” he said.

While Wiedenheft III focuses on paying the bills and regulatory issues — the federal government must OK each recipe — the son is making the wine and cider and running the wine bar.

They said they scouted out other locations but settled on Westerly because of its recent upsurge in new shops, bars and restaurants, and have been welcomed in the community. Their 2,200-square-foot shop includes a bar, tables, a shuffleboard game, and every month features the work of a new local artist on its walls.

On Sunday night, they clear the floors for swing dancing and on Sunday afternoons there’s an indoor market for vendors. Other groups meet in the space, which is available for private parties.

Tapped Apple offers a light menu, or customers can bring their own picnic, or call for take-out from a nearby downtown restaurant.

House wines on tap include the popular Watch Hill White, which is described as “crisp, dry and refreshing.”

“Many people have preconceived notions about apple wines and they are invariably completely wrong,” said Wiedenheft III.

 "Apple wines are local and they are delicious,” he added.

“A lot of people are expecting a lot of sugar, a sweet wine, they think we are serving a bottle of candy,” said his son. “But our Watch Hill White is bone dry.”

Other blends include Respect the Elder, which is a soft, dry red made with elderberries; Light My Fire, which is smoky with a scotch undertone; Hoposite Attraction, a dry hopped wine with citrus notes; and Cerise Noir, which is sweet and made with cherries and notes of oak.

Their signature cider is called First Bite, and there are drink specials, like the Ginger Snap Spritzer — Watch Hill White, ginger beer and a splash of apple cider — or the Cherry Bomb — First Bite Cider with Cerise Noir wine.

The younger Wiedenheft was a dealer at Mohegan Sun for 16 years and left his job there 18 months ago to run the new business. His father, who was a civilian government employee working for the Navy, is retired and doing similar work as a private contractor.

Running their own business is new for both of them, but they are excited by their early success and have just expanded, doubling their space for patrons by moving much of the winemaking out of their retail location.

“We started with apples because they are local and more affordable,” Wiedenheft IV said. “But that is not the norm. Everyone sees wine and they think grapes, because that’s what’s in the stores.”

Customers shouldn’t be confused. A big sign over the front door is shaped like an apple with a tap running out of it. There’s no sign with grapes or a grape vine anywhere.

Hard cider on tap at Tapped Apple Cider & Winery. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)
Hard cider on tap at Tapped Apple Cider & Winery. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)

Business Snapshot

What: Tapped Apple Cidery & Winery

Where: 37 High St., Westerly

Owners: John Wiedenheft III and son, John Wiedenheft IV

Hours: Monday to Thursday 4 to 10 p.m., Friday 2 to midnight, Saturday noon to midnight, Sunday noon to 6 p.m. Summer hours will be starting soon.

More information: (401) 637-4946 or www.tappedapple.com.

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