As you may or may not know, Castle Hill (across the street from us) is starting to produce cider, which has prompted me to want to take a crash course in Virginia ciders! It was with this in mind that I gladly accepted an opportunity to attend a cider tasting at Albemarle CiderWorks this past Saturday with a group of bloggers, friends and colleagues. Those in attendance were, and in no particular order of favorites or preference.
Andy [winemaker Jefferson Vineyards] and Neely Regan, Paul and Warren of Virginia Wine Time , Frank Morgan Drink What you Like; Grape Envy guy and VA Wine Diva of Swirl Sip Snark; Rick and Nancy of Virginia Wine in my Pocket; Jacquelin and Ben of Mountfair Vineyards; Amy Ciarametaro of the Virginia Wine Board Marketing Office; Mary Ann Dancisin, contributor to the Virginia Wine Gazette, and our friends at flavor magazine. Frank should have been at the bottom of this list for making a dig at the South African Wine Industry and the lack of terroir, NICE!
I must confess I know less about Cider making than I do about speaking Chinese [of which I do not know one word], throw in the fact that I was going to be drinking [nay tasting] and I was going to learn something. We tasted the products of 2 cider producers, Albemarle CiderWorks owned and operated by Chuck and Charlotte Shelton and Foggy Ridge Cidery, with Diane Flint [cider maker] in attendance.
Before I go into the actual tasting, I have to give major props to both producers in the manner in which they conducted the tasting and spoke of their products. Passion is not lacking and for that I have to tip my hat, for agriculture is hard work and you have to love it, and both the Sheltons and Diane do.
We tasted 8 different ciders, made from curious apples such as Graniwinkle, Black Twig and Winesap. Most of them were in the 6-8% alcohol range with residual sugar [which determines how sweet it is] from 0.2% to 2.3%. Both Cider makers spoke of tannins and acids, food pairings and age worthiness [sounds a lot like wine-making] which later on I found to be true. I have to admit that I could not pick up any flavors per se, some tasters spoke feverishly about tropical notes and citrus tones, all I could clearly pick up was the differences in acid levels and the presence of astringency. When asked to pick a flavor, I was going to play it safe and say I could definitely pick up APPLE.
I was very interested to learn about the process of making the cider, and how it differed to making wine. First difference is that cider making is far less forgiving than wine-making. Great care is taken in producing this product, it is definitely an art form, big eye opener. I was also intrigued to find out that apples are sometimes stored for a period of time prior to processing, sometimes a few months, where in my field of work grapes degrade fairly quickly and processing is done soon after picking. Pretty cool fact is that there are 16 000 apple types out there [no that was not a typo] although I am drinking a 15% alcohol Napa Cabernet while typing this blog and my memory is a bit fuzzy. Should have taken notes [a real blogger would have, but I am not one- a fact that I am constantly reminded of].
After tasting the ciders, I honestly had to give the edge to Foggy Ridge, just because there was a far greater difference in the ciders that I tasted, from the color to the acid levels and the texture in the mouth, all three ciders tasted different. I really liked the Albemarle Ciders but they were far more similar across the board and thus the edge to Foggy Ridge [hey I bought all of them so I did not play favorites]. Furthermore, the notion of cider as sweet and generic was completely destroyed [wood chuck cider may not be the best representation]. These ciders are food friendly, have their own unique character and thanks to Chuck, Charlotte and Diane will begin to have a bigger market presence. I for one support the growth of this sector of Agriculture and wish them both the very best of luck, and to Castle Hill too when they open their doors to the public on June 1st!
So it was with a new sense of perspective that the group retired to the cottage where burgers were thrown on the grill and many a bottle of wine and cider were tasted, some good and others not. Good times were had by all and ultimately this is why we do what we do, to enjoy the fruits of our labors with people we enjoy being around.
So my thanks to Chuck and Charlotte for hosting us, to Diane for driving all that way to present her ciders and to Frank Morgan [a.k.a Mr. Boeing] for organizing this wonderful event.
So support our local Cider producers, they are doing an amazing job, you will be glad you did.