organic orchard

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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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 🥂

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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Cider House Staff Training: Celebrating 10 years at the Good Life Farm

Good Life Farm and Cider, now Kite & String, home of Finger Lakes Cider House and all your best friends

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

First cycle of Cider House staff training is complete! After starting our monthly tours with Eve's Cider in April and hitting Black Diamond in May and Redbyrd in June, we come home to the Cider House and the farm that is its foundation.

Good Life Farm- a dream of building topsoil now in its tenth year. Home to Garrett and Melissa, who've been holding and implementing a regenerative design here for 10 years. Enter Matt and brother Jimmy, horses+dogs+cows+turkeys+geese and add, with the 2015 opening of the Cider House, 15 more human team members.

Together we balance the long term ecological focus of the Good Life Farm with immediate economic reality. Good Life Farm is just coming into it's own- just barely- and the Cider House collaboration and our own Good Life/ Kite & String Cider production have made this leg of the journey that much sweeter.

So we took this time to top off the longest party weekend if the year with a day-after gathering of our own to honor the Good Life Farm (Kite & String/Good Life Cider) and the entire Cider House team. In particular, we say goodbye to Brad, who brought a new level of integrity and intensity to the Tasting Bar but really, and also, employed his naturalist skills to bring us some forgotten apples from Hector for a new, soon to be released collaborative cider. Brad is off to new adventures, and maybe he'll someday tell us where those trees are.  For now, we thank him for bolstering our young orchard with the fruit of these steady, survivalist elders.

And we'll try to do those hard-won apples (2016- just a real challenge of a growing year) some justice...

And sometimes at the end of all this heavy thinking, we just celebrate! Here's to the trees, here's to the teamwork that gets us there, whether we've been working together for a week or all this decade long.

An evening at Redbyrd Orchard kicks off the Cider Wheel!

Discussing cider with Eric, Round 2

You can too at the Redbyrd Afternoon- June 17, 2 - 5 PM

A recap on our June 7 Staff Training at Redbyrd

This past Wednesday (6/7/2017), our dedicated and excitable staff visited Eric, Deva, Cyrus, Leo and Felix at their home and the younger of the two Redbyrd Orchard sites (Trumansburg). Apropos of our coming public event on June 17 with Eric, we got to taste and chat in the orchard, and came away with our standard feeling of love, respect, awe and inspiration for our partner cideries. June is unique because it is the fever pitch of spring orchard work and sets the stage for the harvest to come. We started our walk with beautiful abundance on 5 yr dwarf Kingston Black and quickly encountering buzz concepts we were forced to dissect... biodynamics. Why, explain. To irrigate for larger and greater future harvests, or to push developing trees to withstand all weather opportunities. Sharing an evening with this family, amidst their unending agricultural journey, expressed so well in dry (and only dry) cider... well, it's just sweet. We recognize and salute the slow flame that burns in Eric and Deva's farmer hearts and keeps Redbyrd making these unique ciders in the smallest batches.

And now the news... updates on the RBO Cider Wheel Project

Reposted from Redbyrd's blog, 6/6/2017

At Redbyrd Orchard we are currently working on a new project, developing a cider wheel to highlight and focus on the unique specific flavors and textures of cider.  We created our first template for the cider wheel and tested it out alongside a cider release event at the Finger Lakes Cider House in March.  This was a super fun event for us as the interest and curiosity of the cider wheel became obviously clear and worth our while.  At that time we tasted 14’ Celeste Sur Lie, 15’ Wild Pippin, and the 16’ Workman Dry, three very different ciders.  We gave the tasters a copy of the first draft of our cider wheel and the flight of ciders to taste and comment.  We got tons of cool feedback, confirming our descriptors for the ciders but more importantly adding more and cultivating and encouraging new descriptors. Now we are working on adding these to the wheel and continuing to hone in on the multitude of flavor expressions in cider.  Below is some boiled down data from this tasting event.   Descriptors are listed in order of the most commonly used for each cider as well as a list of our favorite new descriptors for each cider.


14’ Celeste Sur Lie

Our Tasting Notes: elegant aromas of caraway, clementine, and pine. Full bodied mid-palate revealing lemon curd and raspberry. Soft lingering tannins

From Event:  Bittersweet Apple, Grapefruit, sour, astringent, mouth watering, lime, tart cherry, tangerine,  yeast, birch      

New Descriptors : Toast, biscuit, Raw Bread Dough, Arugula, White Grape


15’ Wild Pippin

Our Tasting Notes : A delicate nose of white pepper, lemongrass, and lime. Herbaceous notes of freshly dug wild carrot root, finishing with mouth watering tannins

From Event :  Earthy, sour, soft tannins, yeast, mushroom, tart cherry, tangerine, velvety

New Descriptors : Rose, Cherry Blossom, Fennel


16’ Workman Dry

Our Tasting Notes : Tropical fruit, orange peel, and birch on the nose. Fruit forward but with a round supple mouthfeel transitioning to a finish of mouthwatering acidity and plentiful tannins. Bright and juicy tart.

From Event :   Lime, Lemongrass, bright, grapefruit, bittersweet apple, orange pith, waxy, cherry, clean, silky, mouth watering, lingering finish,

New Descriptors : Riesling Schorle, Melon, Nectarine


On Saturday June 17th at the Finger Lakes Cider House we will be releasing another cider,  the 2015 Andromeda Crab.  With this complex unique blend of Wickson, Dolgo and Manchurian crab, and classic European bittersweet apples we will again be looking to develop and increase the length of our list of descriptors for cider.  Please join us and be part of this pioneering discovery and the continued evolution of American cider.

Spring Training Cider House style with Eve's Cidery

This past Wednesday (April 5) marked the beginning of Spring Training, Cider House style.  Autumn hoofed us at double time up the famed Albee Hill where we gained 700' elevation and peered out over the Cayuta Creek valley.

Autumn has been an essential and generous mentor to Melissa on and off since 2001, when she introduced "farming is cool" as a concept.  Over the past 16 years, we at the Cider House and Good Life Cider have relied on Autumn's sharp insight, pure honest and incredible craftspersonship to help guide us on our own journey into grower cider. 

Atop Albee Hill, our whole crew joined Autumn in pondering the mysteries of the organic orchard and associated soapboxes and the oh-so-challenging economics or small-scale, low volume, high quality grower cider.  And at the end of it, we got to taste 4 years of the results in an Eve's Cidery 'Northern Spy' vertical tasting spanning 2012, 2013, 2014 and 2015.  The 2015 is on our Tasting Menu right now!

In this year's round of training, we meet and greet with each of our four farm-based cideries to make sure that we- Cider House team- can do our best behind the bar to tell these small farm-based cidery stories when we serve you.  We'll continue to offer educational programming through the year to highlight why we think what we do is... delicious.  Special. Worth every effort. Stay with us- more to come.

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