farm life

A Letter of Goodbye from Melissa

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Greetings friends near and far,

I write to let you know that today begins my transition away from Good Life Farm - Kite & String Cider - Finger Lakes Cider House. There are many details to wrap up, but today marks the moment.

Regenerative agriculture is a powerful tool for clean air, clean water and right livelihood. With that in mind I’ve sunk my roots into the farm for the past 11 years. My blood, sweat, tears, and all my ideals are part of the soil of this place. Leaving has not come easily but for myself and for the trifecta of these businesses, it is time I seek other opportunities to explore and contribute.

The farm and cidery and Cider House continue to be what they are- places for gathering and testing the realities of farming ideals.  I look forward to what evolves next at this special home on Hickok Road. Your love for the Cider House and Good Life Farm are also and always appreciated, and I invite you to continue to visit and partake.

The Cider House and farm still accessible via website (fingerlakesciderhouse.com), Facebook (FingerLakesCiderHouse) and Instagram (@flciderhouse). If you’re interested in staying in touch with me specifically, I will continue on Instagram - I’ve renamed the @kiteandstringcider Instagram account to @fromcidertohere.

Be well, and thank you for helping make the most of these eleven years spent here,

Melissa

PS… I thought I’d share some beauty that came my way as I was preparing for this transition.

And I Was Alive Osip Mendelstam

And I was alive in a blizzard of blossoming pear,

Myself I stood in the storm of the bird-cherry tree.

It was all leaflife and starshower, unerring,

self-shattering power,

And it was all aimed at me.

What is this dire delight flowering fleeing always earth?

What is being? What is truth?

Blossoms rupture and rapture the air,

All hover and hammer,

Time intensified and time intolerable, sweetness raveling rot.

It is now. It is not.


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Kite & String Vintage Outlook, from here

May 1, 2019

By Melissa Madden

owner/field crew: Kite & String/Finger Lakes Cider House/Good Life Farm

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2018 was a challenging year to fully ripen fruit. This has a significant impact on the quality of the vintage and deep repercussions for cellar practices starting with harvest thru to each cider’s release date. Usually we look back at vintages from the fully finished and aged standpoint. We are just beginning to release the first of the 2018 ciders, while the rest are laid down for secondary fermentation and aging. I find it to be a fine moment to lay out some Harvest ‘18 vintage details before we forget in the haste of Spring 2019 and all that is to come!

Starting in August 2018 we had torrential, record-producing rains (see our Blog post 8/23/18 about the floods on Seneca and Cayuga Lakes), and a consistent state of lower-than-average temperatures for much of the late Fall. 2018 was indeed the wettest autumn since 1895, with the fourth warmest September and third coldest November on record (NOAA Quarterly Climate Impact and Outlook, December 2018). I’m using weather data, brix at harvest and specific gravity at press, and my own memories of field harvest to draw some preliminary conclusions on the 2018 Vintage.


VOCAB MOMENT

Brix (fruit sugars)

Specific Gravity (density of a liquid aka sugar content, in this case fresh pressed apple juice. SG is used to follow fermentations to dryness)


Each vintage we have an opportunity to express the fruit and the farming practices behind each harvest. Each vintage offers its own set of trials, and it is tempting to seek the year that was the BEST. I prefer instead to focus on what the vintage tells us about its own year, and explore how we tie our own story to that time.

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I asked Jimmy to characterize his own experience from last Fall and to discuss his vantage at the press vs mine in the field. Jimmy reported a few facts that corroborated my memories about harvest, and used the variety ‘Goldrush’ to tell his story. He uses this particular and beloved variety because we use more of it than any other variety. Over the past three years, we’ve done Good Life Farm-estate only single varietal ferments with ‘Goldrush’, largely destined for the Cider Club. The 2017 SV was so limited it is only for sale (17 cases in total) that it is for sale but not on the tasting menu. It is spectacular, and since we both buy and source ‘Goldrush’, and value it so highly, it is an exceptional window into our experience of a vintage.

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The 2018 ‘Goldrush’ coming out of Good Life Farm  were harvested in a shorter window than in 2015 and 2017 (2016 being so extreme in terms of drought that data is scant and irrelevant), except for some early drops during a heat wave in September. We started picking earlier and had to finish earlier because the snow and ice arrived on November 16th, but the ripeness as represented by brix at harvest and specific gravity after pressing were lower compared to those years where harvest went on into December. As compared to other farms where we also source ‘Goldrush’, we had higher specific gravity- I’ll guess because of a mix of our orchard practices- organic, lower input, no irrigation, low Nitrogen inputs- and because we were able to spot harvest and visit trees several times to attempt to allow for greater ripeness.

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What does this suggest for the 2018 vintage? I may be stretching a bit by trying to use specific varieties as a metric and for not manically keeping weather data collated by variety at the time of harvest. But from here, I’d sum up the 2018 vintage as this…

2018 was a tough year in ways unrelated to weather, and I think that the simple challenge of getting the harvest in is well documented in the subsequent challenge of getting the fruit to shine in the cider. Jimmy pointed out that several of our new experiments- First Pet Nat! First wild ferments with Good Life ‘Goldrush’! … represent a nod towards slightly more risky cellar practices with greater rewards. This might be a great way to sum up the challenges of 2018 generally. Because of our September heat wave and resulting early fruit drop, we spent a lot of time revisiting trees to spot pick what was left with hopes of increased ripeness. Similarly, in the cellar, Jimmy and Garrett spent a lot of time working around this weird harvest timing and low sugars, while all of us stood at the press far into the freezing temperatures of Fall. Over the next 9 months the 2018 vintage will arrive to tell its own story, and we’ll see how poignant this particular pin in time proves.


2018 releases to date: Baldwin’, ‘Greenman’, ‘Rosé

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Pin in Time April 2019

Brief Insights in the the life of the Farm-Cidery-Cider House, at this moment

By Melissa Madden, owner/doer of what is needed

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Kite & String Cellar Update

2018 Vintage: filtering, final blending, bottling for secondary fermentation

Above, you see Rick heroically posing during our Funkhouse filtration. We’re filtering to build cuvees for our final bottling of champagne method ciders- sending nearly 4,500 gallons into secondary fermentation between March 13 and April 19. We won’t see those ciders again until we disgorge starting in the summer and fall. These ciders are only a part of our K&S catalog, but represent the most labor- and time- intensive blends.

Soon to be released are beloved Rose and newly re-visioned Baldwin (sparkling, dry with that strange sense of unfermentable sugar). Starting with the May Cider Club, we’ll have a limited release Pet Nat called ‘Greenman’- an ode to our designer Q Cassetti and FLX orchard advocate Peter Hoover.

For once, this year Jimmy may see some daylight in the Spring. He and Garrett reworked the cidery schedule to push bottling earlier and get Jimmy out during our crazy crunch time in May.

Coming soon… thoughts on how the 2018 vintage has shaped up. We’ve almost got a read on that!

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Cider House happenings

Busy times! This part of our business has yet to cease with surprises. As farmers, Garrett and I knew about to long days and big goals. The work of the Tasting Room has been to meld the labor of farming with the delicacy of service.

One way we celebrate this is daily- you come visit and we do our thing. Another way is more seasonally driven… for example! Coming up on Friday, April 5 we’ll have our annual cheese+cider collaboration dinner featuring Lively Run Dairy, our K&S cider and a menu to inspire from The Cheese Course (Rachel Freier and Laura Sutter).

Coming right along we continue Sunday brunches and will open up reservations for Mother’s Day Brunch by mid April.

Asparaganza is Saturday, May 26th, a cap off to the “slower” season and a welcome to the summer chaos.

We’ll be here, the releases will come out and we’ll serve ‘em. We’d love to have you and your family for lunch, brunch, tastings and flights, as ever.


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Good Life Farm, progress

Presprouting, pruning, prepping, praying

It’s time! Our first control sprays go on the peaches- in that ever present battle for dominance over the moisture-soaked NE paradigm of fungal diseases. Last year, dark and wet as the fall was, we had a glorious peach crop and we’re planning to open it to UPick again. It starts now.

Also in the good news pile- we’ve scaled back up on the ginger side. We’ve got 400# of ginger mothers presprouting in a warm, dark cabinet. They’re destined for high tunnel planting sometime in May and for all kinds of ginger-based goodness by late fall.

It looks to be a year for focus on the perennials and some specialty veg. We’re adding strawberries for 2020 UPick, cleaning up past mistakes (see below) and preparing for that turn into our 11 year. Here, we can outgrow our worn out assumptions and take the farm into a healthy adolescence. Wish us luck, and come to the harvest when it comes!

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Welcoming three new folks to our team!

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Welcome Hannah, Stephanie and Rick!

Two Tasting Room Managers and our Production Assistant are on board

JOBS HERE NOW: Accepting rolling applications for the Tasting Room staff

Over the past week, we’ve got a new team forming. All three of our new staff represent restructuring for 2019 and our excitement for the future. When we tell the story of our farm-cidery-tasting room, it often revolves around the slow burn from 2008-2014 when we lived off-grid on 300W of power, farmed with the horses and worked on a long arc relying on trees that only bear in year 10 or 15. Between 2013-2015 we started both the Kite & String Cidery (née Good Life Cider) and the Finger Lakes Cider House. In that time we went from farming to farming, cider making, hospitality and our tiny cafe. It took us from 1.5 employees to up to 20 in our busiest season. Garrett and I have been rapidly adjusting in order to keep our eyes on that long arc and our primary values. We are grateful to have our current loyal team and to welcome new members to help us manage the opportunities we’ve created and are blessed by.

Hannah and Stephanie will be sharing management of the Tasting Room, with Michelle here to guide them through the transition. Both Hannah and Stephanie have additional duties intended to help us grow our ability to do private events, high brow private tastings, paired lunches and priortize our growing Cider Club. They come to us with significant experience and commitment to the Finger Lakes wine scene and we’re honored to have them aboard. Over the next few weeks you’ll find each of them on the Tasting Room floor any day of the week. Please help us welcome them!

Rick has joined us to support that funny combination of cidery and farm. Each year we find ourselves stretching to meet the needs of each, and often the busy times for both overlap. We hired Rick with great excitement because of his background in land management. We’re excited to have further support from an inspired team to keep our vintages top notch and our trees better cared for. You’ll see Rick out and about, and please say hello!

Reminder! We are still hiring for the Tasting Room, weekends especially.

APPLY HERE

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Leo and Polly find a new home

On Saturday, February 23rd, 2019, my two closest farming partners, Leo and Polly (Percheron team) left for a new life. I cried when they left, but I knew it was the right thing; I was lagging in my craft, and I wasn’t giving them the work they needed. I will miss them with every hour.

I met Leo and Polly’s new owner, Keith Marquis, only a few weeks ago, but have known of him since I first worked  at Cayuga Pure Organics, 13 years ago. Erik Smith, one of my most important farming mentors, leased land from Keith’s father, Kermit, who raised and farmed with Belgians. That farm is long in new hands, but Keith is starting over with a horse powered dairy. He knows horses, and he has a fine pair that will work alongside Leo and Polly. As sad as I am to see them go, I am relieved to see them in such good hands, and I am moved and grateful for the enduring care of one farmer for another.

I want to know that small farms are just this. We help each other as we can, with not a string attached. We see each other’s efforts, and we are joyous in successes and forgiving in failures, knowing first hand how unpredictable farming can be. We help each other, sometimes reaching across decades. I am grateful to feel this hope and support from the farming world, despite, or maybe because of, my current sense of loss.

And there is more good news:  Leo and Polly will be back for Asparaganza in late May, and if luck is with me, perhaps I’ll take their lines again.

I am so grateful for your kindness. Thank you.

Love,

Melissa

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