The abundance of great cider in California today and its largely an offshoot of the modern craft beer movement. But in spite of all the newly savvy cider drinkers now stalking the aisles of specialty markets or warming the barstools of fashionable Cider Houses, there are still far too many Californians who still associate cider with a sweet, slightly fizzy beverage.
While most commercially-produced hard ciders (especially those imported from China, the world’s largest apple producer), are made with apple concentrate and added sugars to boost the alcohol content during fermentation. Smaller local producers offer many fine craft ciders that are dry, subtle, and as brightly seductive as the apples from which they were born.
Of course, comparing apples to apples is never a matter of simplicity. And so it is with ciders. Some California cider makers actually produce fruit from trees older than the state of California itself. Over six generations, Gowan’s Heirloom Orchards, have gone from delivering apples by horse and wagon, to growing and selling more than 80 varietals of apples, and winning numerous cider competitions.
This spring marked the family’s 142nd apple-growing season on its 240-acre property in the Anderson Valley, along the Mendocino Coast.The orchards reside in a microclimate perfect for growing dozens of apple varieties, including the area’s most popular apple, the Gravenstein.
“When the Gowans first arrived in 1876, there already were some orchards on the property, including Gravenstein trees more than 150 years old. Since then, the family has developed three subvarieties Gravenstein apples and are also known for the fall Pippins, Jonathan, Golden Delicious, Red Delicious and Sierra Beauty apples.
Two of Gowan’s Ciders were also recognized as 2020 Finalists for the Good Food Awards that acknowledge fairness, transparency safe and enjoyable working conditions, and biodiversity stewardship through the cultivation of pesticide-free produce free of genetically modified ingredients. Other fine Sonoma County cider producers include Ethic Ciders, Thistle Meats, Bellwether Farms, SHED, and Spiritworks Distillery.
Interestingly, in America, cider has long been associated with self-sufficiency and independence. In colonial America, at a time when it was often hard to find potable water, most folks had a barrel or two of hard cider in the pantry. Given the state of the world today, with the combined effects of climate instability, pollution, and disease, such a practice makes more sense than ever.
One top-flight west coast cider from Sebastopol’s Devoto Gardens is Apple Sauced. This single-varietal cider produced from dry-farmed Gravenstein apples is made with champagne yeast and quick-fermented to preserve the zesty, tangy flavor of the fruit.
Sonoma County has long been home to some of the world’s best apples. The fog that rolls in every night helps keep the apples crisp and helps them slowly ripen, which, as with wine, is the key to complexity. Just as with grapes, it is a slow-ripening process in a cool climate that is the key to developing the acids and compounds in fruit that later appear as subtle flavor notes in the fermented beverage.
During the last century, untold acres of Sonoma County’s apple orchards were uprooted to make way for the more lucrative grape harvest. Today, with the market for high-end ciders booming, the area’s orchards are once again being planted to apples.
Postponed by the pandemic, the Cider Summit will return to San Francisco’s Presidio on Saturday, October 17th 2021 for its 7th annual showcase of Northern California’s craft ciders. The tasting festival was created as a way to expose cider lovers near and far to artisanal cideries in the Bay Area and beyond.