Guest Cider Maker Musings on 2018: Black Diamond Farm and Cidery

Thoughts on a wild year at Black Diamond

By Ian Merwin, owner-orchardist-cider maker


We are nearing the welcome end of a wild weather year at Black Diamond Farm & Cider!  I’d like to think that after 30 years growing apples here that we have enough experience to anticipate events in our orchards…but 2018 has put us all to the test!

Here are some high (low) lights for the past growing season:  The latest bloom date in 50 years; record heat in May/June/July, and the warmest night temperatures and highest sustained humidity in many decades.  Add to this strange brew a prolonged drought from May thru July in the FLX.  Then in mid August it began to rain incessantly, and the sun disappeared until…actually, we are still waiting for it to make a definite reappearance!

2018 was a great year for mushrooms, recycling an old apple stump here…

2018 was a great year for mushrooms, recycling an old apple stump here…

So what does all this mean for Finger Lakes cider-makers?  Fortunately, apple trees are resourceful and resilient, and most FLX orchards came through with a good sized crop this year.  However, this will be a harvest that tests the creativity and adaptability of cider-makers!  Most varieties ripened a week or two later than normal (a few never did ripen!) and a lot of apples hit the ground prematurely because of the excessive heat, humidity, and lack of sunshine.  Fruit sugar content was lower than usual, and acidity was higher, so there will definitely be some crisp mineral ciders from 2018, and skilled cider-makers will resort to alchemy!

With help from new ponds and drip irrigation on the farm, we were able to nurse our 500 newborn trees through the early-summer drought, and the long wet Autumn kept them growing well into November.  So our new French and Spanish varieties are set for next year, and we are looking forward to making some exotoc varietal ciders in 2019.  As I mentioned back in July for our Bastille Day tasting at the FLCH, we have a new array of one- and two-variety barrel fermented ciders to taste this year, all of which were made from 2017 fruit and then bottled this year. Below, you’ll find some exciting info about them, and come see us Saturday 12/15/2018!

Reinette Musquee (Margil) shows its contempt for excess heat in 2018!

Reinette Musquee (Margil) shows its contempt for excess heat in 2018!

Ashmead’s Kernel/Reinette Musquee—This is a blend of two classical cider apples, one from England and the other from France.  Chris Negronida conjured up this varietal blend a few years ago, and we all loved it!  Delicate tannins and bright acidity under notes of apricot, nutmeg and cloves, made in the traditional methode champenoise. 

ABV = 7.9%, Total acidity = 7.8 g/L, Residual sugars = 0.0%, Total tannins = 504 ppm.

Golden Russet/Porter’s Perfection—A happy marriage of two cherished cider apples—one from New York around 1850, and the other from England in the 1890s.  Golden Russet lends its crisp acidity and ginger bite, while Porter’s Perfection provides tannic structure and depth of finish, underlying fruit notes of mango and citrus. 

ABV = 8.0%, Total acidity=6.9 g/L, Residual sugars = 0.0%, Total tannins = 817 ppm.


Geneva Tremlett’s Bitter—This cider apple is incognito!  It was imported from England for the Geneva NY-USDA apple collection in the 1960s, thought to be the English cider apple Tremlett’s Bitter, which it turns out not to be!  Whatever its true name is, Geneva Tremletts has established itself as one of the few bittersharp cider apples that can stand on its own in the bottle.  It has ample acidity, robust tannins, and notes of key lime and cinnamon spice.  We bottle conditioned this cider to mellow its acidity, letting it age for six months on the lees.  Some sediment is expected when serving.  ABV=7.7%, Total Acidity=7.9 g/L, Residual sugars=0.0%, Total tannins = 907 ppm.

Somerset Jersey—The dominant variety in this cider is Harry Master’s Jersey—a characteristic Cornwall clan bittersweet apple with soft tannins and complex textures.  We added a bit of Pink Pearl and Cox Orange Pippin to this blend, to round things out. Lush aromatics of golden plums, and a long smooth finish characterize this new cider!                     ABV = 7.7%, Total Acidity = 7.9%, Residual Sugar = 0.7%, Total tannins = 880 ppm.