Making Cider for the trees

Why cider, why here, what for

Growing an orchard for cider, and hard years

by Melissa Madden, owner Finger Lakes Cider House, Kite & String Cider, Good Life Farm

The Cider House started as a love letter in physical (in exceptionally encompassing form) to the orchards that do and will cover the landscape of New York and the greater Northeast.  From a terroir perspective, the abundance of wild and state-bred apples alone recommends NYS as the hard cider capital of the country.  When thinking in terms of biologically-appropriate planning, trees as part of a northeastern farm come front and center.

Over the past few years of intense Cider House start-up, we've allowed the  visible role of Good Life Farm to fade to the back ground.  Kite & String is now the name of our house cider, and we still strive towards using only our own apples. This goal is years away but in focus as the clearest way for us to express the power of a biodiverse organic farming system. Like those we collaborate with most closely- Redbyrd Orchard Cider, Eve's Cidery and Black Diamond Cider- we value the life that exists within the orchard and recognize its potential for ecological healing.

Without further ado, here is the case for you, as our friends and customers- to try out orchard cider built on the verticality that is Good Life Farm- Kite & String- Finger Lakes Cider House... A love letter to the trying year in agriculture that was 2016 and an invitation to our Cider Club...




The 2016 organic Goldrush crop on our Good Life Farm was the sole harvest for that year, and quite minimal it was. We shared the loss of harvest potential with many Finger Lakes farmers starting right off at Valentine’s Day. In mid-February 2016 we saw temperatures swing from the non-winter we’d been having at 50F to 5F in one night. At that moment, it was adieu to the peach crop in one great Valentine’s Day massacre. As we proceeded through that capricious winter we watched temperatures soar to record heights January thru March only to drop randomly (in February) and significantly in April and May during blossom and pollination. We lost 95% of our crop between those 2 extremes, and then followed a drawn-out drought which started with the extreme dry winter and lasted all the way to October.  The resulting water stress on the trees was lessened by the absolute lack of a fruit crop, but we watched our potential for a ’16 vintage estate cider and fresh fruit sales trickle away into a dry creek of farm desperation.

A bright spot shone through the doom and gloom of scary climate and unhinged nature with a very tiny yield of Goldrush persisting on our adolescent trees. Between the drought and loss of buds at bloom time, we were astounded to greet these nuggets of survival. And the resulting fruit! We recorded the highest brix (sugar content of fruit, indicating ripeness, alluding to growing practices and giving a sense of what final ABV can be after fermentation) we’ve ever seen in fruit coming into Kite & String- either from our own organic fruit or from fruit purchased at more established FLX orchards. This juice was a miracle of complex, largely tropical flavors at the outset- think pineapple explosion- and through primary fermentation only became more astoundingly celebratory.

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Garrett and Jimmy made the lovely decision to keep our 50 gallons of 2016 estate harvest (all our own fruit) separate, and to dive into the opportunity presented by this beloved and exquisite pressing in late October 2016. Goldrush 2016 made its way through a primary fermentation designed to maximize fruit quality, to experiment with a new yeast to maximize the single varietal character and to allow time for the choose-your-own-adventure of post-primary fermentation decision making. In March 2017, Goldrush went into secondary fermentation to become a methode champenoise (traditional method or champagne-style) with loose yeast through  secondary fermentation to bring fine, mousse-like bubbles to final cider. And Goldrush ‘16 fermented slowly away to a final and delightful 11% ABV. We disgorged with our fine team of 5 staff in October 2017 after 7 months of second fermentation and lees aging. At the moment, we’ve got a tiny 22 cases (50 gallons) to share and savor. And thus, we release it here to you. Because of the absolute precious-ness of this cider, K&S Goldrush 2016 will only be available to you and our Valentine’s Dinner folks for ordering and tasting.


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This cider, like the Baldwin ’16 you all received in November 2017, is very much a wine-like cider in its alcohol content, fruit expression, production method. Goldrush will pair well with the gentlest of Emmentaler or Alpine-style cheeses (think nutty flavors and subtle acid like a good Swiss). You’ll see how we serve it… first, with little to overshadow it but enough of a pairing to further tantalize your palate. It’s a celebration, the champagne of cider to get a little fancy with! We’re so pleased to have this come out of 2016 and all its challenges and even more pleased to share it with you- our closest friends in cider.

Interested in our 2016 estate cider 'Goldrush'?

Join our Cider Club!

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A Pin In Time: 5 Vintages of Cazenovia

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Staff Training February 28, 2018

Marking time in our own little tree ring…

On the verge of finalizing the 2017 blend, we spent an hour walking through a vertical tasting of Good Life Farm-Kite & String Cide Cazenovia, starting with our first vintage in 2013 and through the blending trials and proposed final blend for 2017. Reminiscing fueled by cider as each vintage reminded us of something unique to our orchard cider community- Eve's Cidery's generosity in 2013 when they let us start production at their place while still building ours; my own learning curve in selling cider alongside vegetables, fruit and meat; the support of Cornell Orchards, Black Diamond Cider, Redbyrd Orchard Cider and Farnum Hill Cider in getting bittersweet cider varieties into our country.

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Cheers to the uniqueness that emerges as we produce or more of our own bittersweets here at Good Life Farm to make Cazenovia- one of my personal favorite ciders for its tannic dryness and  the windows it opens into past support that is the Finger Lakes and northeastern cider communities. This tasting marked the slow, one-chance-annually evolution of us a cider makers in the fine methode champenoise tradition 🥂

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


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.


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


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 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!