Sweet 2017 Send Off from Finger Lakes Cider House, Kite&String and Good Life Farm

The year draws to a close... 

We say thank you.

It’s a bit early for us to be drawing conclusions about 2017, but we have the honor of working with incredible people whose reflections are powerful insight.  Jeff Katris created this video comprising the lush seasons at the Cider House and the farm, and we offer it to you as our sweet goodbye to the year.

I recently heard a song in which the lyrics speak to the ever evolving farmer soul- “tell me how trees are planted and all the things I never studied, let me learn them now.”

My rewrite... “remind me to plant trees each year and to ask for help when I don’t know the way.”

Thank you to all of those who have worked to make the Cider House, Good Life Farm and Kite & String Cider what we are, and for all the help on the way.  

 

Harvest Report 2017: Black Diamond Farm and Cider

Written by Ian Merwin

BD orchardist, cider-maker and flx pomme expert

2017 was a year of surprises for Finger Lakes cider growers, as Nature kept us all in suspense about the changing climate.  Balmy weather in February pushed apple bud development way too fast, and then near-zero cold came back in early March.  According to reference texts for apple bud survival of lethal temperatures, the orchards should have lost 90% of their flower buds the night of March 7th.  Imagine our surprise to see millions of flowers in the orchards when Spring arrived in May.  Only compulsive optimists and gamblers should grow fruit for a living!

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Then Nature dealt her next card: It was so rainy and cold during bloom time that our honeybees couldn’t get out of the hives.  It was up to the local native bumblebees to get the job done.  Cornell entomologists have done extensive research on our farm in recent years, trying to figure out why we have such large and diverse populations of native bees.  It’s likely because our three orchards are small (2, 5 and 7 acres) and each is surrounded by meadows, woods and hedgerows.  That landscape diversity provides ideal habitat for a dozen native bee species on the farm, and they did a great job pollinating our trees in 2017, while our honeybees shivered in their hives.  There was enough bloom and fruit set in the orchards for us to harvest our biggest crop ever this year!  The resilience of apple trees never ceases to amaze, and the old-time varieties that we grow seem to be especially hardy and adaptable.

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The next surprise came in April, when we had 1200 baby trees to plant in a new cider orchard.  It started raining in late March, and when the farm finally dried out in August we had received twice the “normal” rainfall.  Muck boots and good friends came to the rescue…we managed to get those trees in the ground during a few brief dry spells.  This new orchard includes a dozen cider varieties that we imported from Spain way back in 2002.  After 15 years in virus quarantine at the USDA, these Asturian apples are now available to US cider-makers (check with Wafler and Cummins nurseries for details).  Some have great names like Piel de Sapo (Toad Skin), Perezosa (Lazy Girl) and Limon Montes (Mountain Lemon); it will be fun naming those ciders! In a few years the Spanish trees will begin to bear, and we can make some Finger Lakes versions of the exquisite Asturian ciders we tasted back in 1997, on our first cider visits to Spain and France.  As our production of American and European heritage cider varieties triples over the next few years, we will be making more small-batch varietal ciders, and can once again provide fruit for other local cider makers.

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Continuing this climate roulette theme—there was a serious drought across the Finger Lakes region during 2016, and we ran out of water to irrigate our young trees.  So this year I rented a D7H Caterpillar to dig some more ponds.  The Honeoye soils on our farm are deep and fertile. But if you dig down enough there is a densely packed layer of clay deposited by receding glaciers 12,000 years ago, which provides a perfect basin for catchment ponds.  The ponds we dug this year should provide enough water for irrigation during future droughts.  My grandson Callum rode shotgun with me in the dozer, and I hope he will remember this when he is my age, just as I vividly recall riding in a bulldozer with my father in 1957, as we dug ponds on our Hudson Valley farm.

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As Black Diamond’s cider-makers, the greatest challenge for Chris Negronida and me is to take the fruit that Nature gives us each year—always different from other years in this part of the country—and work with each vintage to make the best possible ciders.  We hope that people will recognize Finger Lakes terroir in each year’s cider blends, and also appreciate the lineage with our previous years of orchard-based ciders.  This year we had enough fruit to make some new varietal ciders with Ashmead’s Kernal, Geneva Tremlett’s Bitter, and Reinette Musquee (a.k.a. Margil in the UK).  We look forward to sharing some new ciders and enjoying the serendipitous fruits of 2017 with cider lovers at the Finger Lakes Cider House during the coming year.

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Harvest Report 2017: Redbyrd Orchard Cider

Written by Eric Shatt

Redbyrd Orchard Cider owner, cider-maker and orchardist 

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The last two tanks of our 2017 cider are finishing up their fermentation as we speak.  What an awesome year it was for us at Redbyrd!!!!! 

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We harvested a record crop from our orchards and 80% of our fruit this year came from our trees and small local orchards in Schuyler and Tompkins county managed by us and people we love!!!!…..Treegate Farm, Newell Farm, Hammerstone Orchard, Sweet Land Farm.  We love this fruit!!, truly a difference from a cider perspective in organic management and variety selection, to us this makes all the difference in the world with higher levels of concentration, complexity and soul in the fruit, and cider. 

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The ciders from 17’ are showing great!!! Most of our blends this year contained higher quantities of bittersweet and aromatic heirloom varieties which are tasting really good in their early stages with plenty of body, vibrant fruit, and fairly angular, austere rich strong tannins, especially in the Kingston black, Dabinett, Harry Master Jersey realm of fruit.   The flavor and attributes of these tannic varieties were not diluted from excessive rain and heavy crop this season as anticipated.   

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In fact in some ways we will need to age and soften/integrate cider heavy in these varieties before they can be released.  The flip side is that these ciders should have strong aging potential and this is a world we are diving into more and more each year as we try to hold back ciders for future rereleases.   Rounding out our season…Our final pressing of the year which was mostly Goldrush was spectacular with high brix, and that rich golden viscous juice that we are becoming more familiar with and loving more and more each season. 

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These tanks highlighting their bright fruit will likely become a very important blending component in most of our ciders.  It’s great to have our tanks full again, and to have the scarily lean harvest of last year behind us, we made it through!!!  Now one of the big questions right now is…… “Is this another two-year harvest?”, or will we have fruit again next year? Will we have to hold back our stash to last for two seasons, or can we freely move this vintage out the door!!  We are so very looking forward to bottling and sharing this harvest with you!!!….stay tuned!!

A special offer for lovers of Finger Lakes Cider from Eve's Cidery

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Use this coupon: FLXCIDER at check out in Eve's Online Store 

..get FREE shipping to 38 states.

The coupon lasts until 12/26 and can be used an unlimited number of times.

Whether you just want the convenience of stocking up from the comfort of your home or you want to share amazing orchard based cider with your friends and family across the country, Eve's Cidery is offering a special FREE shipping coupon to Finger Lakes Cider House fans for the holidays.

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For those who really enjoy the nuances or cider, we've created these limited quantity, holiday packs:

The Vintage Pack

Taste through 3 years of this bone-dry, bubbly, single-variety cider. Comes with a guide detailing each vintage.
 

The Eve's Sampler


Get a little bit of everything, from rich tannic bittersweet cider to ice cider for dessert and everything in between including the otherwise SOLD OUT 2014 Autumn's Gold and 2015 Darling Creek.


The Magnum 4-Pack

Do you love bittersweet cider? Do you want to impress your friends with beautiful large format bottles? Or is one bottle of delicious cider just not enough?

We are also pretty excited about the release of our 2016 vintage on 12/5. 2016 was a year plagued by frost and drought and our production was limited, with less than 100 cases of each cider. Read the stories of these beautiful ciders in our store now:
2016 Albee Hill
2016 Northern Spy
2016 Darling Creek

2016 Essence

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We can't wait to start packing your box.

Use the coupon FLXCIDER in the top left at check out in our online store. 



Happy holidays from hills and valleys of Van Etten.
-Autumn, Ezra, Celia the kids and the dogs

How to choose your holiday cider

For A Crowd and For A Feast: Cider Buying Guidelines

Featuring the menu stylings of Lisa Jonckheere, co-owner (and beverage director, to say the least) of Trumansburg's own Hazelnut Kitchen.

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First and foremost - every GREAT dinner starts with bubbles. 

So grab your favorite Brut or Celeste Sur Lie and drink to friends, family and memories.  Cheers!

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All day snacking / first course

Look for a cider that is dry, bright, minerally, light tannins, tart and sassy. 

Some Cider House ciders to try: Baldwin, Pippin, Funkhouse, Darling Creek, Slatestone

Main

Try a cider that’s dry or with a touch a of sweetness.  It’s the holidays, you came for the food.  Don’t pick a cider that’s going to over-power the flavors but find one that will cut through the rich buttery sides. 

Northern Spy, Geneva Russset, Workman Dry, Autumn's Gold, Hickster or well rounded, perfect for any day ciders. 

 

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Dessert

Dessert is supposed to be sweet, so pair your cider the same way.  Nobody wants to skip dessert but if you are too full you want a cider that can stand up on its own.  This way your guests feel like they are having dessert in a glass. 

Royal, Pommeau, Ice Cider, Essence

Unless of course you are having cheese – then treat it as a first course pairing. 

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Come taste at the Cider House! 

We are running a Thanksgiving tasting special through Nov 22- buy 3 ciders and get 10% off!

See what's happening this week!

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Harvest Report 2017: Kite & String Cider - Good Life Farm

This week's report comes straight from the home farm of Finger Lakes Cider House- Good Life Farm- and the house cidery located right underneath the tasting room- Kite & String Cider!

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Looking at our list of to-do items for the next 3 weeks, I get that thrill that comes with knowing a corner will be turned and things will wrap up. I also know that these 3 weeks (and the past 6, or maybe this whole past year, or maybe all 10 years we’ve been farming and moving towards cider) are those last gasp opportunities to make it all happen before a long FLX winter sets in.

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Our lists range from “finish harvesting ginger and ALL turmeric, then move tunnels” to “sell the rest of the turkeys, process them (11/19) and distribute them (Nov 19-21) to “press most of our fruit, start primary fermentations on 70% of the incoming juice”… etc.  Words on a list don’t do justice to the hustle of this time.  It’s invigorating and overwhelming and for the past 10 years I’ve tended to completely forget and lose myself in it. 

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This year, we’re seeking balance and have a stronger team than ever before. Between the harvest efforts of the Good Life Farm crew, the production efforts in the Kite & String cider cellar, and the sales and hospitality feats upstairs in the Finger Lakes Cider House, I feel surrounded by folks who want to see this thing go! Let’s reclaim food and drink for small farms! 

Want to see for yourself?  You can still U-Pick Enterprise and Goldrush apples here, and you can taste our cider alongside Eve’s, Black Diamond and Redbyrd every single day of the week in the tasting room. It’s good to have something constant!

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Jimmy and Garrett (Miller brothers and Kite & String cider-makers) report that- despite erratic weather and uneven ripening- the Good Life organic apple crop is hitting a milestone! After 10 years of growing, tweaking, replanting, still planting and learning how to manage our organic orchard for cider and fresh eating sales, we’ve brought in our first significant crop of bittersweet and bittersharp apples!  Our estate blends (in 2015 ‘Hickok’ and in 2016 20 cases of to-be-released ‘Goldrush’) can now feature a heavier balance with the tannins provided by our ramshackle mix of ‘Porter’s Perfection’, ‘Chisel Jersey’, ‘Dabinett’, ‘Stoke Red’… balanced with fruit from our older, culinary trees including ‘Golden Russet’, ‘Akane’, ‘Liberty’, ‘Florina’ and even some ‘Redfield’ and ‘Bramely’s Seedling’.  Huzzah, a toast (in a year or so)!

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Why does this feel significant?  Because 10 years ago, when we were so much younger, we started planting an orchard. We’ve got big hopes for this farm and its next 10 to 50 years. We did a lot of experimenting and mistake-making in the previous decade as farmers and in the past 5 years as cider makers. The 2017 harvest and vintage is no joke in terms of challenging each and every one of the lessons learned along the way- heat and moisture making for excellent disease conditions in the orchard during ripening (especially peaches), and then late heat forcing fruit drop a month early and underripe.  Fermentations going quickly with 70F days in October, and us with no glycol jackets to control it (we prefer to ferment at 50F).  What’s to predict?

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The 2017 harvest marks only the 4th in our lineage of harvesting significant amounts of fruit from our young trees.  The 2017 vintage marks only our 5 year trying on our cider-making hats.  Each year, we get to try again based on our memory, our notes and our intuition about what is right for the farm and the fermentations. And we’re still midstream in harvest and some of our initial primary fermentations- mostly with ‘Northern Spy’ from off farm.  What comes next is the ultimate Choose Your Own Adventure: keep the higher acid ciders sharp or blend? Go through a malolactic fermentation? How much time on lees (do we have? Can we afford?) What do our estate ciders turn out like and do they therefore stay estate or do we find we prefer to blend for a different balance?

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We’ll be back in a month to answer some of the short-term pending questions. We’re really enjoying the journey, and invite you along!

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Harvest Report 2017: Eve's Cidery

In thinking about the pending 2017 vintage, we asked each participating FLCH cidery to provide us with their outlook to date.  Par for the course, Eve's Cidery served up a thorough analysis of the season, and here goes!

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Written by Autumn Stoscheck, Eve's Cidery

Published on Eve's Cidery Blog, Oct 24, 2017

I said the word 'unseasonable' so many time during the 2017 growing season, that the word lost it's meaning. As I write this at the end of October, clouds in balmy grey skies move comfortably on 78 degree breeze, and I wonder: was there ever any such thing as a season?

In March we had had the now common yet still feared early spring warm up. The trees raced ahead with bud phenology and we bit our nails and gnashed our teeth, worrying about a repeat of the 2016 freeze out. This time though, things cooled right down in early April, and despite the endless rain and cold, blossoms were pollinated and fruit set.

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The notion of a humid Northeast climate and all the fungal challenges that come with it was fully manifest this year: by midsummer, many wild trees, and abandoned or mismanaged orchards had lost their leaves due to scab (venturia inaequalis) or rust (gymnosporangium juniperi-virginianae) or both. But this was only a minor part of the story of our orchards in 2017, thanks in part to an amazing holistic management program (more about this later) we been working on for a number of years now.

The bigger story of 2017, I believe, was 2016. Four months with out rain during the growing season last year left the trees stressed going into a dry and mild winter. Stresses not necessarily apparent to the naked eye lingered into 2017. Constant rain, 'unseasonable' cold, and continual cloud cover meant that the trees just didn't get as much photosynthesis done as 'normal'. Combine this with depleted reserves and a heavy crop set and it's no wonder how they reacted to an 'unseasonable' fall...

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Just when September rolled around the corner and the harvest was about to start, the unseasonable fall-like summer ended and the summer-like fall began. In early September it dried right up and got hot. The first week of 85 degree plus weather was welcome. We went swimming (unlike the rest of summer!). The next week we started to get annoyed. By the third week of this unseasonably warm, dry weather, we started to get worried. The harvest season was suddenly compressed from a 6 week season to a 3 week one as all the apples started falling off the trees at once. Some of it was early ripening, but not all. ripeness was all over the place. Which apples fell and dropped seemed to have no rhyme or reason. Starches were high in some fruit. Acids started dropping. Brix stayed surprisingly low.

As all this fruit was dropping we scrambled to keep up. The hot temperatures meant the apples couldn't sit around. No picking a little of this and a little of that. No thinking about blends. No sweating this year. Just pick and press. Fill bins and empty bins. All hands on deck.

In the nick of time, our friend Rich Gurney swooped in to help with harvest and pressing and I honestly don't think we could have done it with out him. And as I write today, 80% of the crop is now in tanks bubbling away.

What's the upshot of the 2017 vintage for cider? Two years of unseasonable weather induced stress and a heavy crop left the trees vulnerable to a bizarre heat wave in the fall causing early drop and unusual juice chemistry. Some folks are all ready declaring 2017 to be a vintage "not worth writing home about" but to my mind it's too early to say. There are mysteries and intricacies in nature that we clearly do not fully understand. Cider is more than it's main chemical components. Every year has a story to tell and every vintage of cider has an opportunity to tell that story. So for now we are focused on the mundane aspects of cidermaking...washing tanks, washing the press, pressing apples, picking apples, sorting apples, washing tanks, watching the ferments. Watching and waiting...

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If I had to make a prediction about the story our 2017 ciders will tell, a story you'll get to taste in a year or two, I'm going to say it's a story about resiliency. It's about ecosystems and the micro-biome as radical alternatives to industrial-chemical agriculture in the face of climate chaos. When 'normal' starts to fail, so do the normal ways of doing things. There has never been a better time to look to nature for a new way of farming.

And there has never been a better time to be a cider drinker, dear reader. While the market is flooded with faceless, nameless ciders made from commodity industrially farmed apples, they are easy to ignore. Seek out the ciders that tell a story of the land. Seek out ciders that tell a story of the season. That's the power of a really good cider.

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