Ciderhouse beats back obscure rule to open in Spencerville

MacKintosh Ciderhouse owner Pete Rainville poses with his '5-acre Cider' and beneath his new sign installed at the Spencerville operation. The business draws its name from a keystone on the home built by Dr. McIntosh, a grandson of John McIntosh of Dundela, discoverer of the first McIntosh Red apple tree. Dr. McIntosh chose to spell the surname as 'MacKintosh' on his house, likely for genealogical reasons. Rainville sources his fruit from Smyth's Apple Orchard, just down the road from the original McIntosh homestead. Van Dusen photos, Nation Valley News

Tom Van Dusen
Nation Valley News

SPENCERVILLE ⁠— There’s a new business open to the public on this village’s main street proudly announcing with a colourful hand-crafted sign that MacKintosh Ciderhouse, at least for the time being, has plowed through the red tape that entangled it every step of the way.

Through concentrated lobbying of local politicians, notably Leeds-Grenville MPP and powerful provincial Cabinet minister Steve Clark, Ciderhouse owner Pete Rainville was successful in setting aside the so-called 5-acre rule which required that a cider maker have his own orchard in order to sell his products from his home premises.

Nobody seemed to know why the rule existed. However, big orchard-based cider companies lobbied to keep it in place believing it helped reduce competition, Rainville said, going against him, a member of the same association. There was more paperwork to conduct with four provincial ministries after the rule was cut down to size before Rainville could hang out his sign. That was officially done last Friday.

Inside the Ciderhouse, which is attached to the family home, there’s a retail outlet selling signature Flying Canoe Hard Cider and porcelain-corked bottles of premium, cheekily named 5-Acre Cider. In the name of investigative reporting, this correspondent sampled — after paying for it — the 5-Acre offering which is aged for four months and found it to be tart, crisp and refreshing.

There’s logo merchandise for sale in the shop and a Certificate of Congratulations presented to Pete and wife Melissa by Edwardsburgh/Cardinal Mayor Pat Sayeau on display. The processing part of the business can be viewed through a window and Rainville hopes to eventually get clearance to conduct limited tours and perhaps hand out samples.

Renovations and electrical upgrades cost about $40,000 at a time when much of the sales had dried up due to COVID-19; all work was done by local contractors. Financially, Rainville said he was down to the core when the five-acre rule was pealed back.

Now he can barely keep up with orders, allowing him — by working twice as hard — to regain some lost revenues and hopefully start moving forward again. His products are distributed through the LCBO which takes 48 per cent off the top, and they’re sold out of the shop which results in only 18 per cent paid directly to the government.

Raised on a Vankleek Hill Farm, Rainville sees MacKintosh Ciderhouse doing for Spencerville what Beau’s Brewery did for his old stompin’ grounds, sponsoring annual festivals and giving back to the community in many different ways. As it is, one dollar from every 5-Acre Cider bottle return will go to a charitable cause.

In making his pitch for dispensation, Rainville joined other orchard-less cidery owners in arguing sales had dried up and their businesses were threatened with closure because of COVID-19 restrictions cutting their usual bar and restaurant sales. They wanted clearance to sell directly from their premises to customers arriving at the door.

At one point, Agriculture Minister Ernie Hardeman couldn’t explain the origin or purpose of the controversial rule, which he noted wasn’t implemented by his government. The minister cited the 5-acre clause as another example of bureaucratic red tape his government was determined to untangle.

Emphasizing how much he’ll lose in investment and customer satisfaction if forced to go back to the old way after COVID, Rainville said he hopes the government will abolish the law once and for all. He could never find a satisfactory explanation as to why the 5-acre rule was applied to cideries and wineries and not to breweries and distilleries which were never required to maintain their own grain fields.

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