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"Farm-Based Cidery" - The combo of natural Apples, natural Cider, and natural Business?

Posted by Andy Brennan 
At the winter meeting a few years back one Hudson Valley grower said to another (neither were me):
"We don't want one person farming 1000 acres of land, we want 1000 growers each with one acre of land."


In recent years the commercial cider makers from the winter meeting have met in late August (same location) to discuss how the careening industry is effecting those of us devoted to healthy apple growing. Clearly, cider allows us to even further break from conventional management. BUT, can we even focus on the topic of growing cider apples when the economic benefit is so engaging? It seems the financial boost has been a blessing and a curse as the allure can easily take us away from the goal of growing healthy apples, healthy communities, and making a healthy drink. So how do we stay holistic?

Here is my thought on maintaining a balance: The trees, the soil, the cider and the business all need to be in relationship with each other. But what does a natural business look like?

I think it's natural that businesses vary in size (I use the model offered by painters: scale -such as canvas size -is personal) but can the way one runs their business be out-of-line with holistic growing and natural cider? I tend to think so.

But this is important to discuss because we need to also define our association, and just as importantly: our dis-associations. One Finger Lake grower suggested we focus on the words: Farm-Based Cidery. But even that can be manipulated. Can we discuss what that means and where our exclusions would lie?

Andrew Brennan
Aaron Burr Cidery
-
Wurtsboro, NY
Lower Hudson Valley
Zone 5a
A good start on a vital conversation, Andy! I have notes expanding on this concept of a farm-based cidery from our round-robin discussions a year ago. Network interest here is to promote grower members on the cider path. These are the criteria that loosely define what that's about:

•A portion of the fruit being pressed are grown on this very farm.
•The grower accomplices this with holistic embrace.
•These craft vintages are naturally fermented under the banner of a farm-based cidery.

Obviously, it would be great to see cidermakers in other regions join in here. We're shaping a means to promote craft vintage in which actual fruit growers are the alpha and the omega of local terroir. As another grower put it, "We need to distinguish our efforts from the six-pack crowd."

Lost Nation Orchard
Zone 4b in New Hampshire
LOVE this conversation, I am fairly new to cider and hungry to learn, share and join any concept/discussion and literature there is to be read.
Cider is not just another sparkling drink, it is a healthy(if you could call an alcoholic drink healthy, this is it!), natural way for apples grown in an holistic environment to be pressed into a natural alcoholic cider blend!
I'm NOT a lovers of rules and compliances, but we do need to straighten out the concept of NATURAL CIDER, CRAFT CIDER, FARM BASED CIDER, ETC for ourselves but especially to enable the consumer to choose clearly the type of cider they prefer.

Bring it on and let's find those 999 growers that believe in it.

Westwind Orchard
Zone 5b in New York
Fabio Chizzola Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> but we do need to straighten out the concept of NATURAL
> CIDER, CRAFT CIDER, FARM BASED CIDER, ETC for
> ourselves but especially to enable the consumer to
> choose clearly the type of cider they prefer.

These concepts are not so simple to define. But I'll try to give my perception...

The Natural cider should be one where there is a minimum of entrants. In its most extreme definition there would be not other entrants than apples, i.e. no sulfite, yeast, enzymes, sugar - niet! In a more realistic definition, I think sulfite, yeast, nutrients and enzymes should be accepted, but no sugar or other sweetener, no other fruit or flavoring, no acid, no water, no concentrates. In other words, a natural cider is one where only freshly pressed apples are fermented to yield cider, with only the help of very small quantities of fermentation aids (total additions of less than 0.1% is typical, hence a natural cider is 99.9% freshly pressed apples). Note there is nothing preventing an industrial cidery to make such cider. And note also an ice cider is NOT a natural cider because of the concentration.

The Craft cider is something different... I see craft as meaning small, as opposed to large or industrial. Craft also indicates ciders that may be different from batch to batch depending on the origin of the apples, the terroir, the millesime (i.e. the year of harvest), etc. Nothing prevents a craft cider from being hopped or otherwise flavored - hence a craft cider is not necessarily a natural cider. You will find in England a lot of small craft cideries that do sweeten their ciders, also often with artificial sweeteners.

The Farm-based cider would be the one where the cider maker grows his own apples. This is the concept known in France as "Propriétaire-récoltant", by opposition to another cidery where the apples are bought. Again in England you will find many craft cideries that buy their apples, hence these would not be considered farm-based.

Claude

Jolicoeur Orchard
Zone 4 in Quebec
I think there are two mutually reinforcing approaches that businesses can take to achieve what Andy seeks. One is focused on producers, is difficult to accomplish, but could have very broad impact. The second is focused on consumers, is easier to undertake, but is likely to have a smaller or more localized impact.

The first effort, as Claude points out, is the difficult task of defining categories of producers and ciders. This is something that would almost necessarily have to have legal or regulatory support, since if there's no enforcement mechanism then there really is no way to trust the accuracy in labels. Take, for instance, "cage-free eggs" or "all natural" foods, which are labels that have very little meaning. Defining specific terms would require the buy-in of producers all across the industry, from the tiniest mom & pop using unsprayed apples in their farm orchard to the largest commercial producer using AJC from China. Not an easy task, but it could promote standardized definitions that affect every producer in the market.

The second effort is primarily a marketing effort aimed at educating consumers, or at the very least encouraging consumers to be more curious about where their products come from. The key here is to distinguish between producers making natural ciders from healthy apples and producers making less than "natural ciders." This would be a heckuva lot easier if the standards from the first effort were already in place so that the labeling on its own would be able to provide the distinctions, but that's a long way off (if it's even possible). And I'm sure folks are already doing the best they can in touting their own products, especially if they are truly natural ciders from truly healthy fruit, but that only means something if customers understand the alternative. So I think there can be a pivot, or at least an addendum to the pitch: telling customers that a good cider producer should be able to you what kind of fruit she's using, where she got her fruit, and how that fruit was grown. The flip side of that message is, "I know what kind of fruit I used, and I know where and how it was grown." If anyone listens to Cider Chat, it's illuminating to see the responses of cidermakers that can answer that question truthfully (and enthusiastically), and those that can't. Without directly throwing stones at the competition, the point of distinction can still be made. It may not be heard or understood all that broadly, but that's part of the struggle.
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