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Start Your Engines

Published: October 6, 2013 in Listen

In my southern Appalachian orchard, summer slips into fall like a hand thrust into a well worn glove. Reading on the porch at dusk, I pull on a sweater and squint in fading light before my brain registers “It’s chilly and dark”. Blue New England Aster compliments goldenrod, and our hills ring with rifles sighting in for hunting season. Before I know it, apples are off the trees and fermenting in tanks. When the Black Gum turns rusty red, I can’t ignore this soft season.

In his latest book, More Scenes From A Rural Life, Verlyn Klinkenborg writes about Fall:  “I have the feeling that a time of year is almost here where I’ll again know just how to do what needs to be done.” I always feel smarter, wiser, more in control in fall…not bad traits for an apple grower and cider maker. But I began this fall humbled in the face of my colleagues’ smarts at New York Cider Week. This annual celebration, originated by Sara Grady of Glynwood  in Cold Spring, NY, celebrates Hudson River Valley growers and producers, along with neighbors from New England and one “spiritual neighbor” from the south.

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Virginia grows good fruit—both apples and grapes—but the best cider fruit grower around is in New Hampshire….Steve Wood of Farnum Hill Cider.

Sign FHC breezeThe short story is “Steve grows tannin”, apple astringency that adds body and depth to his complex cider blends. But as one who had enjoyed Steve’s cider, and occasionally purchased his fruit, Farnum Hill apples are much more than bitter. Ferment Yarlington Mill, Dabinett or Kingston Black and you can see why cider made from 100% dessert fruit is doomed to second place. I like the tropical fruit in Farnum Hill Semi Dry, but if you get the chance, try Steve’s still cider made with the bittersharp (high tannin/high acid) Kingston Black apple,  Farnum Hill Kingston Black Reserve.

While Steve has been my fruit mentor, Eleanor Leger of Eden Ice Cider in Vermont, is my “all things 9919710666_9e9ecdff81role model”. She is smart, creative, collegial, committed to her craft and just damn good at everything she touches. Start with Heirloom Blend, Eleanor’s flagship ice cider with, as she writes, “Russets for full-bodied  sweetness, Calville Blanc and Esopus Spitzenberg provide acidity and citrus notes for balance, and Ashmead’s Kernel provides tannin for structure.” You can’t achieve this complexity with Granny Smith and Golden Delicious. Move on to Eleanor’s aperitif ciders, Orleans Herbal and Orleans Bitter. These innovative ciders, based on the centuries old tradition of infused wine, are made with apples and herbs—no tricks here. Your sophistication quotient will rise a notch when you serve a cocktail made with Orleans Bitter.

CiderWeekNY aims to educate, and I was pleased to participate in David Flaherty’s session on “Ciders of the World” at Astor Center. David is a self proclaimed “uber-cider geek” who manages the cider and beer programs at New York’s Hearth and Terroir restaurants. David was an early champion of cider, and I’m happy to say a Foggy Ridge Cider fan. Beverage professionals sampled cider and heard from Steve, Eleanor, Bill Barton from Bellwether Cider in the NY Finger Lake District and your’s truly about cider made from real cider apples. As always, I learn from my colleagues and I know the enthusiastic NY audience did too.

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When I returned to my Virginia mountains, the big beech tree at the curve in the drive glowed yellow on top. We picked Ashemead’s Kernel and Roxbury Russet and I thought about CiderWeekVA right around the corner, November 15 through 24. Our southern version features a Cider Salon for beverage pros and many events across the state for everybody else. While we’re a young “cider industry” here in Virginia (at least the 21st version), we’re making fine ciders that show well on the national stage. So I anticipate our southern version of Cider Week with high hopes that Virginia cidermakers will “know just how to do what needs to be done”…which in my book is plain and simple: grow more ingredients (cider fruit) and craft even better cider. So start your engines, fall is here and cider is on the move!

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