This post is about authenticity in cider.
Apple orcharding is hard work. In fact, it’s so hard I am absolutely sure I’m completely unfit mentally and physically to even contemplate the idea. Now add to this the hand bottling, hand corking and hand bottle caging of the cider made from apples resulting from orcharding. Again, I’m unfit physically and mentally.
I know this about myself after spending an afternoon with Autumn Stoscheck and Erza Sherman the couple that owns and makes the cider at Eve’s Cidery. Autumn and Erza recently paid me the honor of hosting me at their cidery, which included walking me from their orchards on the hill above the cidery down that steep wooded hill. I remember Ezra telling me during that trek that they have a variety of mushrooms that grow on the hillside. I can’t tell you what kind of mushrooms because I was concentrating on preventing my own death from a fall and harsh tumble down the hill. Erza happily traipsed along bantering about mushrooms.
I made it down, sweating and happy and alive. What awaited me was one of the most pleasant afternoons in memory.
Eve’s Cidery is located in Van Etten, New York, about 45 minutes from the Finger Lakes town of Corning. It’s on this farm where they work night and day raising two children, tending a magnificent garden, growing more than 40 different varieties of apples in their two orchards and producing some of the best cider made in America from their converted milking barn.
After a tour of their rustic cider barn, I sat with Ezra and Autumn at their picnic table placed in the shadow of old shade trees and looking out at a rustic scene that include swaying vegetables plants in the garden, small barefoot children working to impress one another on the trampoline off to the side, all accompanied by the sound of crickets and birds.
Autumn delivered four of their 2014 ciders to the table, along with a cutting board full of fresh picked carrots, peaches, apricots, plums, some locally made cheeses, and jars of pickles and beets. The children delivered plates of nasturtiums for our eating pleasure.
Autumn started Eve’s Cidery when she was 21 years old using the savings from her waitressing job. Former criminal attorney Ezra joined the effort after they married. It’s a partnership. And it’s a vocation that demands constant attention, very hard work (I met Ezra on the trail from one orchard to another as he chainsawed a fallen black walnut felled by a lightning strike), and a firm belief that once presented with real, honest, artisanal hard cider of the dry variety, people will come and people will buy.
This latter facet of the business often seems a more difficult proposition. Despite the excellent reviews and excellent reputation Eve’s Cidery has obtained, marketing and selling these ciders isn’t easy. Most of their bottlings are sold to wholesalers, who buy them at half price, mark them up 50%, and sell them to discerning shops and restaurants where they are marked back up by 50%. In the shops they appear and at Eve’s Cidery website these ciders, among the finest in the all the land, sell for a mere $17.00. It’s criminal. Every time I buy a case of Eve’s cider I feel like I’m committing larceny. If I were to buy a wine of this relative quality I’d be paying well over $100.00 per bottle.
Part of that problem has to be placed at the feet of Autumn and Erza. These two people are so focused on farming and fermenting, so dedicated to the project of producing cider of perfect authenticity that the time they have left for marketing and sales is minute. I’m constantly wondering how their lives might be different if they obtained the proper $40 or more per bottle for these amazing ciders. It’s a problem that many artisan cider producers face.
As we sat under the trees, nibbled and tasted the newly bottled ciders, we chatted about the nature of orcharding (it’s about letting the orchard tell its own story), raising children (none of us are remotely capable of being perfect parents), real estate (this region of NY is being discovered by out-of-towners with money to buy land, but it’s still a depressed region) and cider making and cider-selling (see above).
I tasted the 2014 versions of Eve’s Albee Hill Still and Dry, the Beckhorn Hollow and their single variety Northern Spy. I’ll review these later in a formal way. But I want to note here that these ciders will be entirely unfamiliar to those who drink the grocery-store brands that are tarted up with concentrates, odd sugars and produced to be quick gargles. These are ciders that let the apple speak, that provide a platform for the orchards to rail against mediocrity, and that must be taken seriously even as they are downed and enjoyed in large, exuberant gulps.
In particular, the 2014 Albee Hill and the Beckhorn Hollow ciders offer a panoramic view into the great promise that is American artisanal cider. They sing a note of true authenticity and are stuffed with layers of flavor and aroma. And like any great beverage from anywhere in the world, they deliver a harmony of elements where the tannins and acids appear to undergo an osmosis, mingling inside and beside and around one another.
As I prepared to leave Ciderland and drive off into the bucolic countryside that is upstate New York, Ezra’s former music teacher showed up in front of the old milking shed-turned-cider-barn. He wanted cider. We all want cider. We want to show people real, authentic cider. We want what we put in our bodies to occasionally be something that is real and not contrived. We want to know to that the plasticity of everyday life can be happily interrupted by supporting the sweat and toil of true believers. We want to be true believers from time to time.
The true believers in Cider can visit Eve’s Cidery, but only by appointment; by calling first and seeing if Autumn or Erza are available or have time to trudge down the hill from the orchard. I recommend it. Otherwise, I recommend you visit their online wine store, which, like much of what Autumn and Ezra surround themselves with, is rustic but more than does the job.