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Kitchener’s Mat Vaughan brings home gold with his homemade cider

Cider: It’s a refreshing drink hitting patios everywhere this summer.

While LCBO shelves fill up with commercial cider blends, one Kitchener man took his love for cider to the next level and started making his own.

Mat Vaughan, 32, is no ordinary winemaking hobbyist. He just won a gold medal and the title of Grand Champion Cider maker at the annual Amateur Winemakers of Ontario competition for what he called his best cider yet.

“Not everyone makes hard cider, but it is becoming a more popular drink to make,” Vaughan said.

He competed against 300 other winemakers, many of whom also made ciders, and also landed a top-five spot in the winemaking category.

Vaughan began dabbling in winemaking several years ago using do-it-yourself kits, experimenting with different flavours and even fruit wines.

He didn’t even really like wine. “My first few batches were not drinkable,” he said with a laugh. “It was hard.”

Vaughan joined the K-W Winemaker’s Guild a year into his own winemaking adventures to have a fostering community of enthusiasts.

“It’s like an art or science,” he said, “somewhere in between those two.”

Cider came along later on his DIY list. He wasn’t quite impressed with the available commercial varieties of cider but he tasted some homemade blends and decided that he wanted to try to make some himself.

Using apples like honey crisp, royal gala and ambrosia, he began experimenting with homemade cider. “The thing about winemaking is that it is really easy to get passionate about it,” Vaughan said.

To enter one of the Amateur Winemakers of Ontario’s 23 wine categories, participants have to submit several different batches and flavours.

Vaughan enters 60-70 wines every year to the regional level of the competition. He has been entering wines for the past six years, but this was only his third year with cider.

“Sometimes it is tough to find time,” Vaughan said. But he enjoys every minute of it.

Plus he has the help of his wife, Melissa, and family and friends to help him drink it all.

“I make way more than I could ever drink,” he joked.

His next step: turning his passion into a profitable business.

Vaughan has already planted grapes at his 23-acre winery in Clear Creek, Ont., where he hopes to plant apple trees next summer. The winery is still in the experimental stage but he hopes to do well with his award-winning blends and other creative combinations he’s got up his sleeve.

He thinks it’s a good time to get into commercial cider making. “Cider consumption in Ontario is starting to really take off, cider is huge in Quebec and it’s big in Europe,” he said.

“Everyone’s coming out with their version of cider,” he added, citing Molson and Alexander Keith’s versions.

But he said that there is nothing like homemade varieties.

“Mine is just apples, there’s no messing around.”

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