Wheel Line Cider Company a female-owned success


Top Photo - Susie Jensen accepting her award from the SBA Middle photo - Patrons enjoying a taste of her cider at the farm in Ellensburg Bottom photo - The inside view of the remodeled Air Stream Trailer utilized as a tap room.
Susie Jensen, owner of Wheel Line Cider, is finding quick success in her hard cider business. The first ciders were released to the public in late 2017, but the business has already been featured on Good Morning America. 
 
Jensen said that she has owned a farm in Ellensburg for about 20 years. She started planting orchards about 10 years ago on seven acres of the property. Besides her farm in Ellensburg, Jensen has also lived part time in Leavenworth, splitting her time between the two cities for years. For her, the commute hasn’t been a big deal. 
 
“I think it's because I was from California. I don't think of an hour and a half drive as bad. Of course, the pass is beautiful,” she said. 
 
The majority of the crops on her Ellensburg farm are a grass called timothy. But the seven acres of her farm that host orchards currently boast about 1,700 trees. Jensen said that when she first attempted to make cider, she ended up making vinegar instead. 
 
So she took a class to figure out how to make cider and discovered that she needed a different type of tree to make it, a tree with bittersweet apples. The tannins in the bittersweet apples give the cider body and complexity. 
 
Jensen said she couldn’t find any bittersweet apple trees locally. So she brought about five trees from around the country, from upstate New York to Michigan. Three years after they were planted, she made some, “pretty good cider” from the trees. This led her to planning the business seriously. 
 
Wheel Line Cider is made in Jensen’s barn, she said. First, the apples are put in a mill that chops them into a really crude applesauce. Then the crude applesauce is pressed into a juice. The juice then goes into fermentation tanks. 
 
Since juice is full of sugar, when yeast is added to the juice it feeds off the sugar and converts into alcohol. After that, a glycol tank chills and carbonates the alcohol. On the other side of the barn is a cold storage area where the liquor is kept before being sold. 
 
Jensen said she entertains guests who are interested in her cider at an outdoor mobile cider bar. She renovated a 1970’s Sovereign airstream to serve alcohol. The airstream is equipped with 4 taps. 
 
On Saturday and Sunday, guests are hosted at the outdoor tasting room. The area is nicely landscaped and has seating, a bocce ball area and an area for kids to play. Since the tasting room is outdoors, kids are allowed to be there. 
 
In order to develop her business, Jensen said she joined the Small Business Association in Washington. The association helped to guide her business during the coronavirus pandemic. The association helped her understand how to fill out a PPP loan, how to fill out a forgiveness application for the loan and gave her business $17,000. 
 
Good Morning America contacted the Small Business Association, Jensen said. The show wanted to feature Washington businesses for the first of July because of the statewide reopening. Wheel Line Cider was one of 20 businesses recommended and only four were chosen for the show. The cider company was the only business featured from the east side. 
 
“It was just pretty darn exciting. I mean, I was a nervous wreck and everything possible went wrong,” Jensen said about the feature.
 
When the film crew came to film for Good Morning America, Jensen said she lost all electricity and it was 104 degrees outside. She ended up serving cider out of an ice chest and couldn’t serve cider donuts and Sunday brunch because the electricity went out. 
 
The film crew wanted to film the orchards, but the trees had recently been sprayed with chemicals to prevent sunburn and they couldn’t go in the orchard. Then they wanted to film the barn, but there wasn’t enough light to film because the electricity was out. 
 
The cameraman was from Seattle, Jensen said. The interviewer was from New Jersey and asked her questions about Wheel Line Cider through a phone. She found it quite disconcerting to talk straight to a camera while the person who was interviewing her talked on a phone in a different direction.
 
Alcohol isn’t all that is planned for Wheel Line Cider. Jensen said that she wants to make granola, a barbeque spice wrap and apple syrup from her apples in her kitchen. She applied for a cottage kitchen license which allows her to make up to $25,000 of product in her home kitchen.
 
A byproduct of creating cider is apple pulp, Jensen said. The apple pulp is dehydrated and then can be used to create the granola, barbeque spice wrap, and apple syrup. Creating these products from apple pulp helps to make her business more sustainable. 
 
Jensen hasn’t been a businesswoman her whole life. She said that she used to be an art teacher. When she retired, Jensen had too much energy and “couldn’t stand doing nothing.” Because she really enjoys cider she decided to create a cider business. 
 
An event that really helped to develop Jensen’s business was a course on entrepreneurial business through Kittitas and Yakima County. She learned about marketing, technology, social media, legal strategies, and financial tips from the program. 
 
Because she had such a positive experience with the class, Jensen decided to write a thank you note to the group that hosted her. The person Jensen wrote the thank you to referred to her several times until eventually she was nominated by the Small Business Association with rural business of the year.
 
Jensen said that is when her business began to snowball. She was connected with business colleagues from countries around the world and hopes to eventually export her alcohol. But despite her success, Jensen isn’t interested in creating a giant cider corporation. 
 
 “I have no interest in becoming a huge operation. I just want to be local, you know,” she said.
 

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