When Gwen Hurt and Courtney Mailey started talking last year about making a collaborative product between their two adult beverage businesses based in the Richmond area, one particular flavor quickly came to the forefront.
Peach Madness, to be specific.
That’s the name of the collaborative cider the two business owners are making and selling.
It’s an apple cider, infused with peach puree to give it an extra dose of down-home Southern flavor.
“Peach is like the champagne nectar of the South,” said Hurt, the founder and owner of Shoe Crazy Wine, a Petersburg-based maker and distributor of blended wines.
Mailey is the founder and owner of Blue Bee Cider, a Richmond-based craft beverage company that was launched in 2012 and is known for its traditional, hard ciders made with Virginia-grown apples.
The first batch of 500 bottles of Peach Madness under the Blue Bee Cider label, made in the spring, sold out three times faster than expected from the cidery’s tasting room in Scott’s Addition.
“People loved it,” Mailey said. “Peach has been extremely popular, and we will be making more.”
The cidery was busy in late September making and bottling a batch of 2,500 bottles under the Shoe Crazy Wine label. Plans call for an additional 6,000 bottles for 2022 under both labels.
“We make ciders that are apple only and then we also make some infusions — it is about 50/50,” Mailey said. “But everything is made with Virginia fruit. We are real sticklers about that.”
“The feedback we have gotten is that it is not overly flavored, not cloying,” Mailey said. “You can tell it is made with real ingredients.”
The apples in the cider are Gold Rush apples grown at orchards in Nelson and Frederick counties.
The collaboration was Hurt’s idea, inspired partly by the social justice movement that surged last year in the Richmond region and across the nation. Hurt said she wanted to send a message about good things that can happen through the collaboration between women- and minority-owned businesses.
“During the social justice movement, I just thought that two women business owners collaborating on a product would be a good way to show that there is not always dissension,” Hurt said.
“We are some of the only female-owned beverage companies in the Richmond area, so we have similar experiences,” Mailey added.
However, the COVID-19 pandemic created complications and led to delays in finishing the collaboration last year. The two companies also had to make adjustments based on Virginia ABC laws regarding distribution.
Consequently, there are two versions of Peach Madness. One version made last spring and sold under the Blue Bee Cider label features that company’s name more prominently on the bottle and is more like a dry cider in flavor. The other version, which was recently bottled, features Shoe Crazy Wine’s name more prominently and is a slightly sweeter version of the mix.
“My customers tend to like a little more sweetness,” Hurt said.
The Shoe Crazy Wine version is being rolled out at Total Wine stores as well as shops such as the Market @ 25th on Church Hill, at some other local wine shops and at the U.S. Coast Guard Exchange in Chesapeake, with more military bases expected to carry it, Hurt said.
The latest batch was bottled and labeled on Sept. 30 and Oct. 1 by Blue Bee’s head cider maker, Taylor Benson, and cellar associate Kel Ward at Blue Bee’s production area on Summit Avenue in Richmond.
Blue Bee first set up shop in the Manchester neighborhood of South Richmond in 2012, then opened a new location in Scott’s Addition in 2016, investing $1.2 million to renovate the former city stables into a cidery and tasting room with an outdoor patio.
Hurt started Shoe Crazy Wine in 2013 after leaving a long corporate career in management roles for computer companies IBM and Lenovo. Hurt rethought her career goals after she and her daughter Brittny were injured in a severe car accident that required them to go through about a year of physical therapy.
Shoe Crazy Wine, which partners with various California and French wineries to make blends according to her specifications, grew out of her personal love for wines and her hobby of mixing her own blends of wine.
“It was a learning process for us [Blue Bee and Shoe Crazy] to do a collaboration, but I really wanted to show that there was synergy between us,” Hurt said.
Like many other companies during the COVID-19 crisis, craft beverage makers have faced supply chain problems. Hurt said her business has been affected by shortages for several products.
“The glass is costing more — there are glass shortages,” Hurt said.
“Trying to keep the customer from feeling the pain of it is tough,” she said.
Sales have held up well for both businesses, though.
“We had a lull in the summer,” Mailey said, adding that isn’t unusual because so many customers in the Richmond area are traveling during that season. “Things are starting to pick up. The second and fourth quarters of the year are really the happy times in our industry.”
Hurt said Shoe Crazy has seen “significant growth” in revenue and sales.
“I am excited about bringing this to market,” she of the collaboration cider. “This makes us a full-on adult beverage company — not just wine. It helps us to build a portfolio. You can’t just be a one-trick pony today.”