8 Sonoma Artisan Producers That Aren’t Just Great, They’re Good

Find out how these local artisan food makers are suddenly in the national spotlight.

Here’s a look at Sonoma County’s 2018 Good Food Award winners, a high-profile award for producers of conscientiously-made artisan foods. For many small producers, this award boosts their products into a national spotlight. Photo of Ned Lawton by Michael Woolsey, fieldsonoma.com

Ned Lawton of Ethic Cider. Photo Michael Woolsey, fieldsonoma.com
Ned Lawton of Ethic Cider. Photo Michael Woolsey, fieldsonoma.com

Ned Lawton of Ethic Ciders didn’t plan to become a cider-maker. In fact, it wasn’t until his family moved to a fallow apple farm near Sebastopol that making hard cider making occurred to him at all.  But just a year into production, his dry-farmed Golden Rule organic cider has been selected as one of 279 Good Food Award Winners chosen from around the country. The Good Food Awards celebrate biodiverse, clean, artisan foods from New York to California, with more than 2,000 entrants for 2018. 

“We were blown away,” said Lawton. “We love that we were acknowledged by food people, and not just the beer and wine folks. We are about pairing our ciders with food, so this is just a huge thumbs up,” he added.

Along with Ethic Ciders, seven Sonoma County producers were tapped in 2018, including Thistle Meats, Bellwether Farms, SHED and Spiritworks Distillery.

“We inherited a bunch of apples that were planted before we got there, so the journey for me is what it takes to make a good cider blend,” said Lawton of his introduction to farming. When Lawton realized his orchard was producing not only the coveted Gravensteins, but Golden Delicious, Rhode Island greens and several other heirloom varieties, he made it his mission to find the mix of apples that would show the terroir, and the expression of his land.

Apples from the Lawton's farm. Heather Irwin/PD
Apples from the Lawton’s farm. Heather Irwin/PD

Early on, the former tech exec experimented with small tanks bubbling away in a bathtub. Then on to bigger containers in his barn, then into stainless steel tanks, and now, his 1200 annual case production is made in a specialized facility in Petaluma. Lawton works with Ryan Johnston as his orchardist and cider-maker and Shea Comfort as a consultant and mentor.

“We work to figure out how the cider best comes together in the bottle. It’s a life journey to figure out how to do this each year,” he said.

Ethic Ciders can be purchased at Andy’s Produce in Sebastopol, Bohemian Market in Occidental, Oliver’s, Bottle Barn and Healdsburg SHED.

Congrats to all of this year’s Sonoma County winners of the Good Food Awards. Click here for a full list.

Salami from Thistle Meats in Sebastopol. Facebook
Salami from Thistle Meats in Sebastopol. Facebook


Thistle Meats, Milano Salami, California

Bellwether Farms whole milk ricotta. Sonoma Magazine.
Bellwether Farms whole milk ricotta. Sonoma Magazine.


Bellwether Farms, Whole Milk Basket Ricotta, California

Laura Chenel’s, Taupinière, California


Ethic Ciders, Golden Rule, California


Baci Artisan Chocolatier, French Silk, California

Laura Chenel's Taupiniere. Courtesty photo
Laura Chenel’s Taupiniere. Courtesy photo


Backyard, Citrus and Juniper Shrub, California

SHED, Plum Shiso Shrub, California


SHED, Smoked Trout & Smoked Black Cod, California


SHED, Pickled Shiitake Mushrooms, California


Spirit Works Distillery, Sloe Gin, California

We appreciate borrowing several photos of Ned and Ethic from photographer Michael Woolsey. Check out the great article on Ned and other interesting local producers at fieldsonoma.com.