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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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We are in good company: Wine Enthusiast's 'The Women Leading American Cider Forward'

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The Women Leading American Cider Forward

by Shelby Vittek, for Wine Enthusiast

READ THE FULL ARTICLE

Craft cider has grown exponentially over the past decade, and women are at the forefront of its evolution. Here are seven cidermakers to know.

From the beginning of the craft cider movement’s recent American revival, women have served prominent leadership roles as orchardists, cidermakers and agricultural researchers.

It turns out that cider drinkers are more gender balanced, too. According to Michelle McGrath, executive director of United States Association of Cider Makers, women account for nearly 50% of U.S. cider drinkers, as opposed to craft beer’s 31%.

A considerable number of cideries across the country are run by women. Located in proximity to wine regions like the Finger Lakes region of New YorkSonoma CountyWillamette Valley in Oregon and coastal Washington, these producers craft distinctive orchard-based ciders. Here are some of the women who are shaping the future of American cider….

THE PART ABOUT US….

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Melissa Madden, Kite & String

If you visit the Finger Lakes region’s Good Life Farm in Interlaken, New York, you might see Madden as she rides through orchards on a draft horse. Madden and her business partner, Garrett Miller, own the organic farm that houses the Finger Lakes Cider House as well as their cider brand, Kite & String, which they launched as Good Life Cider in 2013.

Kite & String has made waves with its sparkling ciders like Cazenovia. It’s a bone-dry, traditional-method cider made from varieties like Dabinett, Somerset Redstreak, Pound Sweet and Northern Spy.

The cidery often tests out different apples and methods. With an operation like this, the learning never stops, says Madden.

“Our farm is only 10 years old,” she says. “We don’t have orchardists in our families. It is not enough time to know anything.”

Madden is grateful for the close community of cider makers in the Finger Lakes, made up of people like Autumn Stoscheck who helped pave the way for women like herself. Now they’re both part of the same group of American cider makers that promote and recognize their peers, while simultaneously striving to advance the quality and craft of every cider they create.

Kite & String Cider-Good Life Farm is hiring for 2019!

NOW HIRING: FARM AND CIDERY PRODUCTION ASSISTANT

December 19, 2018

Join our team!  Our farm-cidery-tasting room is hiring for a full-time position starting March, 2019. The Production Assistant will split duties between the farm and cidery, with duties rotating as the seasons demand. Good Life Farm is our diversified organic farm featuring apple, peach and pear orchards, season extension, poultry and draft horses. Kite & String is our cidery where we make a range of artisanal cider sourced from our own organic Good Life apples and those of other Finger Lakes orchards. All of this is the setting for our tasting room and cafe Finger Lakes Cider House.  

DOWNLOAD AND SHARE THIS JOB!

 

Summary

March through December 2019, possibility for long term employment based on mutual fit.

40 hr per week. Weekdays M-F, with one weekend per month.

Pay rate sliding $15.50-17/hr based on experience

 

Skills Sought

Some mix of trade skills- electrical, plumbing, carpentry, or min 3 years working full time on a farm or in a cidery/winery. Must be self-motivated and able to work in a team- taking direction from multiple managers and alone- keeping pace and attention to detail for solo tasks. We prefer to hire someone looking for longer term employment based on mutual fit.

 

Job Details

This job is a seasonal immersion in the life of an integrated farm-cidery-tasting room. The Production Assistant will assist seasonally in all aspects of our Kite & String Cider production and our Good Life Farm management. Weekly duties will be split roughly evenly between both the cidery and farm, but will shift weekly/monthly to meet seasonal demands. Throughout the season the Production Assistant will participate in harvest, washing and packing of Good Life fruit and produce, and daily livestock chores plus one weekend per month. Orchard management will be a primary focus. The Production Assistant will work with the team on infrastructure improvements throughout the year. Cidery tasks are ongoing all year, with a focus on bottling until apple harvest and pressing begin in late September/early October.

 

To Apply

Please send a letter of interest, resume with references to:

Melissa Madden (melissa@thegoodlifefarm.org)

Applications will be taken on a rolling basis until the position is filled.

All questions via email.

JOB DESCRIPTION DOWNLOAD

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

COME CHAT WITH IAN ON SATURDAY, DEC 15 (2 - 5 PM)

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.