—by Jess Clarke
Inspired by Sterling’s cutting-edge environmental stewardship playbook, Eric Dube’s ’13 experience at Sterling planted the seed for his successful company, Dube & Robinson Cider.
Now Dube is planting apple trees from seed for his New Hampshire business to increase genetic diversity, so the trees may better withstand pests and changing climate conditions.
That’s just one environmentally sustainable measure Dube has taken as he grows the hard cider and mead company.
Dube’s business plan was fermenting while he was at Sterling, where he built a cider press from a campus ash tree. He later developed a plan for a sustainable cider business as his senior project.
“Sterling helped me realize what I wanted to do with my life,” says Dube, a Sustainable Agriculture major. “To see examples of people doing interesting things for their livelihoods in the natural world, and being in a community of college kids interested in doing similar things, was really powerful. . .It gave me a lot of confidence to strike out on my own path.”
With Sterling as the trailhead, Dube used his press to make sweet cider from apples in the Craftsbury area and offered it in Dunbar Dining Hall. He experimented with fermenting the leftover cider.
“It became fascinating to me, the idea of cultivating yeast to make different wines and other alcohols,” Dube says.
His business plan resulted in the launch of Dube Cider.
Now in his fifth year of business, Dube partnered with Will Robinson, a longtime mead and cider maker, in 2014 to create the current winery. The business, in Tamworth, where Dube grew up and lives now, operates on the triple-bottom-line philosophy that equally values people, profit, and the planet.
Dube, 25, company president, cites several Sterling courses he draws on often to run the winery, including a class that helped save the business this fall.
In an agricultural policy class taught by Louise Calderwood and Ned Houston, he learned how to navigate the state and federal regulations that affect his company. He used that knowledge to help expedite a relicensing process required to move to a new facility.
Dube starts pressing cider in autumn, his busiest season. This fall, he discovered the well had run dry at the original facility, necessitating a move to another building and a new license. Typically relicensing takes months, during which time the winery couldn’t have operated, but Dube contacted state legislators to help.
“Knowing more about how to work with the federal regulatory agency, we got our application processed in about 25 days. That’s something I would never have anticipated without that class,” Dube says. “The knowledge of how to work with the system really saved the business this year.”
With the winery saved, Dube continues to act on ways to help save the environment as he runs the company.
Keeping in mind carbon footprint and fossil fuel consumption, he gets fruit from nearby producers, whom he encourages to use organic practices. He and his partner experiment with different apples and other fruits to use what’s most plentiful. They sell their cider and cranberry-blueberry mead only locally, and they’re breaking into restaurants with kegs, which Dube says are more sustainable than bottles. To distribute their products, they may purchase a vehicle that runs on biofuel.
Although Dube and his partner do the production, bottling, sales, and distribution, they hire local people for other tasks, including their accountant, a Sterling alumnus.
“I want to keep everything in the community, all the aspects of my business,” Dube says.
This year, they’ll produce about 750 gallons of cider and 300 gallons of mead. The winery will grow, but in a limited way. The company already is near Dube’s goal of providing both his business partner and him about half of their annual income.
Paramount for Dube is quality over quantity in all respects.
“I’m trying to figure out how to make a business I’m happy with,” he says, “that’s not destroying the environment and that’s helping the people in my community, to be a positive example of a business.”