The Story of Finnriver Farm & Cidery
This is a story of confluence…how fertile land, fine farmers, creative fermenters, good neighbors, great timing, community support and ripe apples all converged to sustain a small family farm and bring Finnriver Cidery to life.
Finnriver Cidery was founded in 2008 by partners Eric Jorgensen and Keith and Crystie Kisler. The roots of the cidery began in friendship and farmland and now, with several thousand heirloom cider trees in the ground, farming and fermenting continue side by side on 80 acres of Chimacum Valley soils, on the north Olympic Peninsula of Washington state.
Before the Kislers found Finnriver, they were searching far and wide for a place to set down roots and grow a grounded life together. Farming was in Keith’s blood and in Crystie’s wildest dreams. While she was riding subways in a big city back east as a girl, he grew up riding tractors in the wheat fields of eastern Washington. Keith knows the names of four generations of his ancestors who lived with the cycles of seed, soil, work, and weather. Henry and Anna, his great-grandparents, carried their farming heritage from the Volga River region of Russia to the Columbia River basin of Washington, where branches of the Kisler family continue to farm today.
When their search for land and livelihood brought them to the Olympic Peninsula, they discovered the historical seaport and arts town of Port Townsend, full of boats, beauty and creative, conscientious people. They settled down, befriended some folks and two of them, skilled farmers Kate Dean and Will O’Donnell, became their business partners in 2004. Together, the two families purchased an organic blueberry farm in Chimacum’s Center Valley from Elijah and Kay Christian, who have since become mentors and neighbors. It was Lige and Kay who began the stream restoration work on the land, dug the wells, put up the barn and planted all 2,000 blueberry plants.
They re-named the farm Finnriver, after Kate and Will’s son Finn and the Kisler’s first son River, a name that honored their family farming aspirations and the fish in the watershed. When the Dean-O’Donnells moved on to pursue other ventures, the Kislers encountered the financial challenge of keeping the farm intact as well as the practical one of needing more hands in the ground to get it all done. Working together with Jefferson Land Trust and the Jefferson Landworks Collaborative, they took local low-interest loans from generous farm allies, agreed to place protective conservation easements on the farm, and developed a plan to embark on cider production. They also put out the call to find another pair of farmers to help make it all grow and heartily welcomed back Janet Aubin, a county native, and her partner Jeff Horwath, who now operate the Finnriver fields and food production as a separate but interconnected endeavor.
The Kislers then partnered with friend and mathemagician neighbor Eric Jorgensen in 2008 to revive the craft of artisan ciders and to operate Finnriver Cidery. Eric’s life journey took him from the Midwest to the Northwest with adventures as raft guide, environmental educator and then school teacher in the nearby rural community of Quilcene. Along the way he married writer and all-around great lady Abby Jorgensen and with their two daughters, they settled down to homestead on a beautiful ridge above Chimacum’s farmland. The early days of the cidery involved Keith and Eric up many a late night, either pouring over spreadsheets or leaning over fermentation tanks.
Since leaving the classroom, Eric has taken joy in the opportunity to work alongside former elementary school students who have been hired in various Finnriver roles. Eric is now the business manager, chief financial officer and staff banjo player. Keith works in operations and in the orchard throughout the year, as well as growing grain, and Crystie connects people to the farm through outreach and events. The three refer to themselves as Head, Hand and Heart and it is through their balanced partnership and the efforts of an outstanding crew that Finnriver has grown into a purposeful and passionate cider company.
Farming, we believe, is about what you eat, and what you drink. We got the inspiration to make hard cider when our neighbor Lige brought over a bottle he’d fermented from the apples out back. It was a crisp, dry, effervescent revelation. Since then, cidermaking in our barn has been a process of discovery— a blend of art, alchemy, ancient wisdom, farm ingenuity, scientific method, nature’s magic and adventurous experimentation. We are inspired by the generosity of the orchard and by the possibilities of the apple.
Finnriver now farmcrafts a range of traditional, contemporary and seasonal ciders made primarily from organic Washington fruit, along with a line-up of spirited fruit wines. We also grow an organic orchard of traditional cider apples on a historic dairy in the Chimacum Valley. While our farm is remote, we are honored to be on the forefront of the Pacific Northwest cider revival. We are committed to fermenting a vision of good land, renewed rural community and a vibrant food culture.
We are also grateful to live in a farm community that includes other individuals and families, and an overnight rental operated by our neighbors, the Huckleberry House. It is our great joy to grow community at Finnriver.