Jim Sparks couldn’t imagine living anywhere else.
“I’ve seen the entire country, from coast to coast, and I’d never live anywhere else,” he said. “I’m sixth generation in Henderson County, and I can see exactly why my ancestors put down deep roots here.”
Walking around the Flat Rock Cider Works tasting room on Main Street in Hendersonville, Sparks points to every detail that shapes in his business. The location is smack dab in the middle of a bustling downtown, one that has seen a cultural and economic renaissance in recent years, with hard cider being added to the list of blossoming industries within the county.
“Henderson County is the number one producer of apples in North Carolina, and all of our apples are grown right here—it’s a whole new door, new industry for the apple farmers and orchards,” Sparks said. “All of our apples come from our two orchards, with everything else coming from Henderson County orchards.”
With his business partner Jim Revis, the duo launched the company in 2012 after Sparks purchased a cider press and decided to make a go at a new business idea he wanted to plant in the economic heart of the area.
“I’d been in the golf business for years, played professionally, owned a course, and even had a golf construction company,” Sparks said. “But, after I sold the course, I was looking for something else to start up. I’ve always enjoyed hard cider, and I could see back then that it was something special and would grow as a business.”
Underneath the Flat Rock Cider Works banner, the brand launched Naked Apple Hard Cider, which consists of the two flagship flavors—“Wicked Peel” and “Blackberry Gold.” Since 2012, the products have shot across greater North Carolina and Upstate South Carolina, with over 250 points of distribution. By the end of 2015, the 4,500-square-foot cidery had produced over 50,000 gallons of product, with projections for 2016 aimed at doubling that number.
“All of our apples come from our two orchards, with everything else coming from Henderson County orchards.” —Jim Sparks, Flat Rock Cider Works
“And throughout this, we’ve been taking our time to get to this point to always ensure quality in our products,” Sparks said.
Though the production numbers are increasing, what remains is how well the consumer takes to the beverage. At a recent North Carolina Cider Festival, both flagship flavors took home blue ribbons for taste, style, and quality. It’s a growing appreciation for Naked Apple Hard Cider that has justified Sparks’ vision for what he saw as a real possibility in his hometown.
With the Hendersonville tasting room now open, Flat Rock Cider Works offers local craft beer and wines on top of local produce from their personal orchards and those of local farmers.
“I see nothing but positive growth in downtown Hendersonville and in the county’s agricultural community,” Sparks said. “For us to offer a local product, where we take it from the tree and are involved in the process all the way to the bottle or can, means everything.”
Stepping out of the tasting room and out into downtown Hendersonville, Sparks looks up at another bluebird sky in his hometown. He doesn’t take this place for granted, and also sees everyday—all around him—just what makes this place special.
“I’ve been supported by the town and county for a number of years, as a golfer and now with cider. My family has always been involved in the community, too,” he said. “You can see why people either reside here or choose to move here—this is a great community.”