orchard management

Celebrate FLX Apple Terroir with Black Diamond Farm and Cider

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Black Diamond exemplifies 30 years of exploring FLX Terroir for Apples and Cider

Join us for a series of unique ciders on Saturday, July 14th, 2 - 5 PM

Sneak Peek below written by Ian Merwin, owner of Black Diamond Farm and Cider

July 5, 2018

This has been a year of transition at Black Diamond Farm & Cider.  In April we planted 440 more apple trees in our new cider orchard, bringing total tree numbers on the farm to about 4400, and our apple varieties list to about 170.  These new plantings are mostly traditional cider varieties, including some from Asturias (Northern Spain), more favorites from Normandy France, and a few from the American South (Hewes Crab, Black Twig, Razor Russet).  These new trees will enable us to continue making ciders with only home-grown fruit—while providing a rich array of tastes and textures to express and explore the authentic terroir of our farm, climate and cider-making practices.

In addition to the eight Black Diamond Ciders we have made in past years, in 2018 we had enough of several longtime favorite cider varieties to create four new “varietal” ciders.  The July 14th event at FLCH will be the first public offering of these new ciders!  Just as Pinot Noir excels in France’s Burgundy Region, and Cabernet Sauvignon thrives in the Napa Valley, we believe that certain cider apples can achieve fullest expression in our Finger Lakes region.  We have a long, cool growing season, deep glacial soils with base mineral reserves and fertility, and rapidly developing expertise among local cider makers who share their nascent knowledge and experience growing apple varieties specifically for fine ciders.  The four new barrel reserve varietal ciders from Black Diamond Farm represent our foray into the realm of intensely varietal and uniquely local ciders.  They were made from apples picked at peak flavor within the 64 acres surrounding our cidery, fermented in small batches that started on native wild yeasts, and then finished with a few cultured yeast strains.  Thanks to a cool wet growing season in 2017, the fruit at hand this year had ample acidity and tannic structure.  Because each of these ciders consists of just one or two varieties, they are a bit quirky and individualistic.  Yet we think they also represent the Finger Lakes cider terroir that is gaining recognition nationally—fruit-forward ciders with complex acidity, minerality, and tannic structure that hold true to the land and orchards where they were grown, fermented, aged and bottled.  We look forward to tasting these new varietal ciders with everyone at the Finger Lakes Cider House this month!


Tasting Notes for New Varietal Ciders 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 Sugar=0.0%, Total tannins = 817 ppm.


Geneva Tremlett’s Bitter

The true identity of this cider apple is unknown!  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.  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.


Harry Master’s Jersey

The dominant variety in this cider was sometimes called the “Port Wine” apple in Southwest England, and is a characteristic Somerset Jersey type of bittersweet apple with soft tannins and complex textures.  We added a bit of Pink Pearl and Cox Orange Pippin to the blend, for the sake of diversity. 

ABV = 7.7%, Total Acidity = 7.9%, Residual Sugar = 0.5%, Total tannins = 880 ppm.

 

Revealing the May Cider Club for these last few weeks...

By mid July we'll start prepping for the August Club!

Get in on the May Club for 2 more weeks!

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May Cider Club letter

May 1, 2018

Greetings, greetings!

May is here. It's a time of edgy excitement on this farm.... Where we wonder if we’ll be able to pull off all that we’ve planned for the year. Where we respond to the rapidly increasing light as we roar towards Summer Solstice with the belief that this year will be even better than the last. It's a wild time! We’re sending you ciders that both encapsulate that spring vibration and give you permission to sit back and soak it in.

CLUB COORDINATION HAND-OFF

For clarity, this is Melissa Madden writing to you. I am the Good Life Farm- Kite & String- Cider House owner, farmer, HR director, accountant, janitor, vet, horse driver, mouse chaser and chief composter. I’ve also taken over the Cider Club starting this quarter and I am DELIGHTED!  I miss the years of our Good Life Farm Spring CSA and the community that created. I see the Cider Club as a CSA in similar ways- we’re able to produce ciders just for you, and tell their story more fully. We get to stay in touch and share the ups and downs of our farm and cider life, and hear your thoughts. We get to know more about your lives and what brings you to this FLX region. I have lots of gratitude to Jenny and Sam for getting the Club going over the past year and half, and am so happy to be in a position to take it on as my other responsibilities shift here at home.

VALUING OUR FLX CIDER CULTURE

As you may know from social media, I just returned from a whirlwind trip to Spain as part of a group of cider makers, restaurateurs, journalists and cider culture activists. It was a wacky time to leave the farm and I, for one, am grateful for the slow cool spring that allowed me to enjoy that time away. I’ll be reaching out over the course of the next few months to share highlights of our explorations into Asturian and Basque cider and food culture!  In a nutshell, my greatest take-away was a refocusing on my love and respect for the cider community here in New York and particularly the Finger Lakes. We are in excellent company and will continue to make the Cider House a place where our collaborative spirit can shine.

A MOMENT IN THE LIFE OF OUR FARM

Now that I’m back, a focus on the farm! We’ve abruptly entered the spring boom period (between breaking dormancy and fruit set) when we watch the weather for scab and fireblight infection events and bite our nails waiting to get through bloom without hard frost. This is the period that tells us how it will be for the rest of the season when we shift towards managing fruit pests and diseases. This time determines the eventual harvest. We also have new trees to plant, and 1,500 trees from last year to cultivate with our horses Leo and Polly. We’ve got 4 miles of asparagus rows to walk and pick daily between May and mid-June, and we’ve got baby poultry to get ramping up for the year. We have ginger and turmeric to plant and tend, and probably a number of things I’m willfully forgetting. I will miss the baby cows this year, but I am excited to renew both my and Garrett’s focus on the orchard for 2018.

IN SUM

In celebration of all of this, we send you this May Cider Club! And if you care to join us in these oh-so-heady times, know you are welcome anytime. Most especially, come see us for Asparaganza 2018 (Saturday, May 26, 3 - 10 pm)! More info… on our website for this family friendly bonanza of fun: fingerlakesciderhouse.com.

Much love and gratitude as the days lengthen!

Melissa on behalf of the farm, cidery and tasting room crews

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May 2018 Club Ciders


King of Hector 2016

Apples Used: 100% wild harvested fruit from Hector, NY, harvested by Brad DeFrees and Will Seymour

Carbonation Method: Traditional Method

ABV: 8.4%

Residual Sugar: 0%

Tasting and Cider Maker Notes: Gripping acidity typical of wild seedlings and crab varieties. Slow fermentation (2 months). Hands off approach with little intervention. High acid cider aged well over the winter with beautiful aromas and unique flavor. We were excited to keep this extremely small lot separate that  season and this cider was filtered and bottled as our last traditional method product of the year.

Inspiration: King Of Hector was produced for the Cider Club only. Brad DeFrees sought out his favorite haunts in Hector in the fall of 2016, when we had an almost complete crop loss on the farm due to late frosts. He found us a great mix of acidic, tannic and aromatic fruit and brought in 20 bushels to make this limited run cider just for you!

Production: 24 cases

Pairing Suggestions: We think this cider drinks like a dry, Spanish champagne style. It is crisp, long lasting, and acidic, and embodies the heat of 2016. Drink it as a starter to open up your guests’ palates and imaginations, with light appetizers like dried fruit or with lightly fried fish or potatoes.


Rose 2017

Apples Used:  Newtown Pippin, Baldwin, Liberty, McIntosh

Carbonation Method: Charmat

ABV: 8.2%

Residual Sugars: 2.9%

TA: 6.9%

Tasting and Cider Maker Notes: A mix of sharp, high acid apples (primarily late season) blended with 18% fresh (unfermented) Riesling juice grown at Hosmer vineyards (Ovid, NY) and 10% Marechal Foch (French variety) red grape wine produced at Swedish Hill Vineyards (Romulus, NY). Put through a secondary fermentation in a closed pressurized tank and bottled at 4 volumes of carbonation pressure.

Inspiration: Blending Marechal Foch red wine from Swedish Hill with our high acid cider blend allows us to play with the wine culture of the Finger Lakes. We add in the unfermented Riesling from Hosmer to kick start the charmat fermentation and crash that halfway through to leave a residual, fruity, grassy sweetness that we think brings this Rose right home to the FLX.  

Production: 402 cases

Pairing Suggestions: This cider is super quenching and brightly fruity. It will go well with alpine style cheese, southeast Asian flavors like ginger, garlic and onion greens and lemongrass.
 


Glacial Till 2017

Apples Used:  Golden Russet, Goldrush, Porters Perfection, Dabinett, Brown Snout, Liberty, Chisel Jersey, Stoke Red, Yarlington Mill, Suncrisp, Redfield, Scarlett Ohara, Akane, Enterprise, Honeycrisp, Winecrisp, Florina

Carbonation Method: Still (no carbonation)

ABV: 9%

Return Sugars: 1%

Tasting and Cider Maker Notes: 100% estate grown fruit. Heavy Golden Russet blend with a substantial tannic backbone. Goldrush, Liberty, and Enterprise give this cider it’s acidity.

Inspiration: This was our first year of bittersweet apples coming into bearing on Good Life Farm. Since 2015 we have made one or another estate (all our own Good Life Farm fruit, 100% organic) cider as the conditions permitted- Hickok in 2015, Goldrush from 2016 and now Glacial Till for the 2017 vintage. It’s an honor to mark the growth of our farm, of our skills as farmers and understanding as cider makers, and time in general with these widely varying Good Life estate ciders.

Production: 121 cases
Pairing Suggestions:  This cider drinks like a full bodied white wine. We recommend serving at 55°F and decanting briefly, then enjoying slowly with acidic and salty flavors like a fresh cut Manchego or grated Pecorino.

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...

 

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ORCHARD CIDER, IN THE GOOD LIFE ORCHARD

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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IN THE KITE & STRING CELLAR

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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IN THE BOTTLE, ON YOUR TABLE

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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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!!

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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