Craftsmen Interviews are designed to introduce you to dedicated, hard-working local makers that are cultivating local culture. Short, easy reads that impart valuable knowledge and inspire you to explore and support authentic endeavors. Stay ahead of upcoming trends and get recommendations from those helping to build their community. (-Learn more)
“I’M A COMPETITIVE PERSON, I WANT TO MAKE WORLD-CLASS CIDERS, THE BEST CIDERS. BUT I ALSO REALIZE IT’S NOT THE MOST IMPORTANT THING. SHARING LIFE WITH PEOPLE. THAT’S WHAT’S IMPORTANT.”Nate Watters – Founder & Cider Maker @Keepsake Cidery
Follow the highway about an hour south of the Twin Cities, turn onto a gravel road surrounded by fields and farmhouses in Dundas, MN, and eventually you’ll find Keepsake Cidery & Tasting Room. The gorgeous and inviting taproom has an elevated farmhouse charm and the outdoor patio looks out past the adopted farm animals and onto the rows of apple trees, grape vines, and berry bushes that produce the delicious ciders, wines, and meads being poured at Keepsake.
Learn more about Keepsake Cidery’s approach to wild, spontaneous fermentation and their commitment to their community from the founder and head cidermaker Nate Watters…
Nate Waters (and Tracy) of Keepsake Cider – The Mini-Interview
After talking with Nate Watters for five minutes, I felt like I had known him for years. He’s a passionate farmer who wants to share his love of apples and cider with the world. Nate and his wife, Tracy Jonkman, own Keepsake Ciderary, a gorgeous tap room, community space, orchard, and farm. I had the best time getting to know Nate, walking through the rows of apple trees, chatting with locals, and sampling what is truly some of the best cider I’ve ever had. Below is a condensed version of what makes Keepsake ciders so exceptional and how Nate found his way back to his roots: apples.
For Nate’s suggestions on “can’t miss” culinary and adventure experiences around the brewery, see our Keepsake Adventure Guide.
What are you doing at Keepsake Cider that makes it so unique?
“This is a small business. Tracy, my wife, and I, we run this thing. We’re involved in every single aspect of it. Our approach to the cider, the wine, the mead, whatever we’re making, is that every decision we make- whether it be in the cellar, the orchard, or the tasting room- we try to think as big picture as we can about how that decision affects the greater world, not just us. We try to be as true as we can to the base ingredient, which for us is fruit or honey.
What makes us really unique is when we get to that decision, we tend to always choose to let nature run its course. There are very few wineries and cideries in the US that are 100% spontaneously fermented. We use only native yeasts- no sulfite additions, no preservatives or additions whatsoever. You can add up to 80 without a label much like the brewing industry. We decided not to add any of that stuff. I’m not on a moral high ground about it, it’s not good or bad, but we decided not to add any of that stuff. It’s who we are. It’s our personality and style. We relish that we’re not in control, that we’re just a small part of the finished project. We let the cider and wine be in charge.
Many of us [cider makers] grow our own ingredients and I love that I grow the apples, grapes, and berries. We have all the ingredients right here. And so we can be present at every step of the way. The only thing I don’t do is make bottles. Everything else we do. We use 100% local fruit. We love our terroir, mainly the Mississippi River Valley and its tributaries. We are very much focused on our local fruit which makes us seasonally driven. As far as our ciders go, everything is aging and it tells us when it is ready. For us, our average release date is 18 months after press, and we also have ciders that we age for years available, so the ciders we’re releasing might not be from that harvest or season. We really believe in aging. Time is one of our biggest strengths and ingredients.”
HOW DID YOU GET INVOLVED IN THE CIDER BUSINESS? WHAT DREW YOU TO PLANTING AND CULTIVATING THE FRUIT?
“I’m not going to lie to you, initially, I was a beer snob. I used to brew beer. I thought cider sucked until I had good cider and I discovered cider was actually the best. My relationship with apples comes from two parts of my life: New York and preschool.
I moved around a lot because my dad was in the Air Force, but we spent some time in upstate New York. New York is number two or three, for US apple production. The apple culture there is so strong. Every weekend we were hitting orchards and cideries. I picked apples in my neighborhood because there were apples everywhere and I’d sell them on my corner, so I made a few bucks, which for me was huge.
Fast forward sixteen, seventeen years later, I was teaching preschool in Wisconsin and wanted to be outdoors more, so I started a garden with my preschoolers and I loved it. I loved growing things and contributing to a better world. So, I became a farmer and learned how to grow food out in Massachusetts. It was beautiful, but hard, hard work. We’re talking seventy to eighty hours a week. One day I was hand weeding carrots in this huge field and realized I love farming, but I didn’t want to work with just any crop, I wanted to grow apples.
It was an epiphany. I love growing trees and perennials, so I started building a business plan around apples, organic farming, air, water, and soil health, and alternative farming styles. It’s that love of farming and fermenting and finding the symbiotic relationship between them that I could do in a way that made me feel fulfilled and excited about life.”
What collaborations does Keepsake with your community or other cider makers?
“We collaborate with Loon Liquors a lot. They are an awesome organic distillery in Northfield and they use our cider to make brandy for us. We’ve also collaborated with Forager Brewery, a little with Imminent Brewery, Pryes and a little side project they have going on, Number 12 Cidery… we’re always looking for collaborations.
As for our local community, we really want to be a place of refuge, a place to come and connect with yourself, your friends, family, new friends, nature, with local farmers and products. We want to be a conduit and a hub for connecting with the people in the community and the people who make your food and drink. As a part of that, we bring in a lot of art- writers, musicians, performance artists—we even had a circus out here. I want this to be a place for creativity and expression. Get off the beaten path and take a break, feel refreshed and rejuvenated after you visit us.”
Nate’s Recommendations (A trip to Dundas, MN)
Learn more about community collaborations, hikes and restaurants, and other great local people and farmers with a few hand-picked features from Nate himself…
Keepsake Cidery & Tasting Room – Dundas, MN
Est. 2014 by Nate Watters, Tracy Jonkman, Jim Bovino
4609 135th St E, Dundas, MN 55019 / 413-552-8872
Beer Recommendation: Rivervalley Reserve / Wood and Spirits Medium – View tap list
Nate and Tracy live and breathe cider.
They farm the ingredients on-site, live in a house beside the orchard, oversee the pressing and aging of the product, and they know most of their taproom customers by name. Their passion for what they do is evident in each sip of their outstanding cider.
I know it sounds cliche, but visiting Keepsake really does make you slow down and appreciate nature and its incredible flavors. Come taste fresh, non-alcoholic cider in the fall, or stop by anytime for their wide selection of cider, wine, or mead. Whatever your taste, Keepsake has something for everyone.
Craft Passport to Keepsake Cidery
Keepsake Cidery and their tasting room are featured in our Official Collaboration with the MN Cider Guild Passport Card and on our Mobile App. Additional photos and video tour on instagram.