Area orchard fights to remain exempt from cider regulations

CASHTON, Wi. (WEAU)-- "At first when we started, I thought we were just an apple orchard, but now I know we're a place that memories get made," said Elizabeth Rodriguez, Maple Ridge Orchard owner.

Domingo Rodriguez with the stainless steel apple press the Maple Ridge Orchard uses to make its cider.

Maple Ridge Orchard in Cashton has been selling unpasteurized apple cider for about a decade.

The family-owned orchard has always been exempt from regulations.

"Raw unpasteurized apple cider is exempt for direct-to-consumer sales," said Domingo Rodriguez, Maple Ridge Orchard owner.

On a good weekend, the orchard sells up to 100 gallons of cider directly to its customers. It also sells caramel apples, which is something that does require a license.

When the owners went to renew the Retail Food Establishment license to sell caramel apples this year, they were told their cider is no longer exempt.

The Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP) gave them the options to either stop selling caramel apples so they wouldn't need the license anymore or build a regulated building for their apple press to make cider inside.

"If we stop selling caramel apples, this problem goes away-- Why? I mean why tie the two together?," Domingo Rodriguez said.

The owners say they cannot afford to build a new facility or to stop selling caramel apples.

They've always pressed their cider outside and welcome crowds to watch.

"If we have a pressing happening when there's a school tour the kids especially like to see that and a lot of times it's just customers who love our cider," Elizabeth Rodriguez said.

For the Rodriguez's, it's important to fight the regulations not just for the sake of their business, but also for other small orchards they know this would affect too.

"If it was just us, it wouldn't be as important," Elizabeth Rodriguez said.
"It's important because this is the way we make a living, but we know that what happens here is going to impact other growers across the state."

The Institute for Justice, a non-profit organization, is working with the orchard to come up with a solution.

"It's more than just apples, it's an experience that people love to do year after year," Elizabeth Rodriguez said. "Its a family tradition."

The orchard has a meeting scheduled with DATCP on November 20th.