Bay Area sommelier pivoted from grapes to apples, then took Sincere Cider on the road

Bay Area sommelier pivoted from grapes to apples, then took Sincere Cider on the road

Folks have called Bex Pezzullo a modern-day Johnny Appleseed — with good reason. The Bay Area hospitality industry veteran and sommelier happened to be launching an apple-centric venture at a challenging time, right before the pandemic hit in 2020.

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So she hit the road to spread the word about her hard cider.

It worked. She put 20,000 miles on her camper van and Sincere Cider on the map. The ciders are now available throughout California and Nevada at retail and restaurant partners ( and through online sales too (

We talked with Pezzullo about the journey from wine to hard cider, the causes she supports with sales and the road ahead. Here’s an edited version of the conversation:

Q: You jokingly call yourself a “recovering sommelier.” What’s your background in wine?

A: I lived in San Francisco for 20 years and curated some of the best Italian wine lists in the city. As an Italian wine specialist, I had been fortunate enough to travel to Italy to participate in two wine harvests. When I moved to Oakland, I had a one-car garage and I thought, what a great place to make my own wine. So I sourced some equipment and grapes and “coerced” some friends to participate in making the worst wine I have ever had. I mean, my palate was here (hand up high) and my talent was here (hand down low).

Q: So how did you get from there to hard cider?

A: After dumping the inaugural vintage down the gutter, I badly wanted to improve, but it was going to be half a year until more grapes would be available. So I started studying brewing, and I made some beer. It was OK, but I wasn’t loving the culture at the time — it was all about giant IPAs and bombastic flavors.

I missed the finesse and structure of fruit-based fermentations. I mentioned this to a friend and she introduced me to an apple farmer in the Delta — and I was off and running. I got to hone my craft and fine-tune my fermentation protocols with what I consider the perfect blend of apples and the ideal yeast strain. Sincere was born.

Q: You were getting ready to launch Sincere when the pandemic hit?

A: I was working for some of the best event companies in the Bay, helping to design and create experiences such as Union Square’s Winter Walk and Off the Grid’s signature food truck festivals. But ultimately, I wanted to test myself and my skills. I wanted to stop “renting my magic” and follow my dream.

In July of 2019, I started laying the groundwork for Sincere, permits with the ABC, the TTB, trademarking and securing a production space. I was planning to launch in the spring of 2020. One week after sinking my life savings into apple juice and aluminum, COVID-19 shut everything down.

Q: How did you and the business get through that challenging time?

A: I threw up an online store and started selling cider there. I learned to run some Facebook ads and partnered with laid-off bartenders for content. But without bars, events and restaurants, it was slow going. I knew I’d have to go wider than the Bay, so I bought a vintage camper van, gave up my rent-controlled apartment and hit the backroads of California. I’d park the van, hop on Instagram to see what was cool in any given town, and then I’d go cold call. When you pull up in a branded vintage camper van selling hard cider, people are naturally curious. So that opened a TON of doors and I met some great people.

Bex Pezzullo, founder of Sincere Cider, launched her brand just before the pandemic hit in 2020. To get her cider in the marketplace, she gave up her Oakland apartment and set out in a camper van, traversing California to sell at festivals and other events. (Photo courtesy of Sincere Cider) 

But selling that broadly, I knew I was going to need help. So I started hunting for distribution. I had some relationships from my buying days and that helped me start conversations, but what sealed it was that they saw I was a modern-day “Johnny Appleseed” — sleeping on the road and doing everything I could to make my dream survive.

Q: Where is your cider made and canned?

A: I’m fortunate enough to have quite a few friends in the wine and beer industries, and I produce the cider at their facilities in Napa, Lodi and San Jose. It’s a shared-use production model that allows people to follow their dreams without having access to generational wealth or vast sums of money. For the ingredients, I use fresh-pressed Washington apples, botanicals and single-strength juices with an eye toward seasonality.

Q: How many ciders have you created?

A: Apple, Ginger and Granada are all core/year round. The seasonals are Blood Orange (fall/winter), Hibiscus Passionfruit (spring), Pine-Apple (summer). This past holiday season, I created a raspberry-tinted cider for the Great Dickens Fair, and it sold out in three weekends.

Q: What do you need to do to stand out in this cider marketplace?

A: I think it’s all about the culture and showing up for the communities where Sincere is enjoyed. Most of my competition is owned/operated by big beer and big wine — in fact, less than 3 percent of breweries in America are wholly women-owned. To that end, some causes, events and experiences are important to me that wouldn’t be seen as a priority to these corporately owned beverages.

Q: Which causes does your cider support?

A: I grew up and have family where the Dixie and Camp fires happened, and reforesting those areas are important to me, so my seasonal ciders support One Tree Planted — for every case sold we plant a tree in a California burn scar.

I’m a queer person who migrated from a rural area to the big city to find myself, so supporting the missions of organizations like Way Out and Queer Life Space is super important to me.

I live in Oakland and the city has lost much of its sports landscape, so I try to support organizations like the Oakland Roots, which is a group of locals crowdfunding a sports team/stadium and creating community.

Q: What does the future hold for Sincere Cider?

A: Sincere is just me pursuing two things I love to do: sharing cider and meeting people. I’m out there at festivals, pouring at demos or meeting retailers, and my work supports me and these organizations. Other cider companies might have bigger festival budgets and pay influencers to post, but all of Sincere’s growth is organic and, to be a bit cheesy … sincere. I believe if I keep making cider, sharing it and supporting things that are dear to me, that the market will support Sincere.

Q: Will you take the camper van on the road again this spring and summer?

A: Very likely, but I’m beyond excited to live in the Bay again.

Position: Sincere Cider owner, cider maker
Age: 46
Residence: Oakland
Family: Chico and Lake Almanor


— Born and raised in the small Lassen County town of Susanville.

— Bex is short for Becky, which is short for Rebecca. I gave myself the nickname. There was a point in time when Becky was at peak cringe, and that’s when I shortened it officially.

— I drove the Sincere Cider camper van up and down California. My favorite route is Highway 395.

— My hobbies are building/fixing stuff, hanging with friends, travel.

— One more: Pizza! Got an Ooni and have been obsessed, from dough to launch.