As mentioned in a previous story, we are very excited about Eve’s Cidery and particularly their current crop of 2013 Harvest bottlings. Not only are some of the best ciders we’ve ever reviewed coming from this upstate New York cidery, but it is the epitome of the craft cidery: hands on, small production, control of their orchards and a keen focus on quality. Eve’s Cidery owner Autumn Stoscheck was kind enough to take time to answer The Cider Journal’s 10 Questions.
1. What was the motivation that put you in the mood to become a cidermaker start Eve’s Cidery? And, did you have a mentor in the early days after the decision was made?
In my late teens, I worked on an apple orchard and loved it so much I decided I wanted to find a way to make a living pruning apples trees as my career. In the employee bathroom, there were always a selection of trade magazines. That year (1999?), Steve Wood (of Farnum Hill Cider) was on the cover as Fruit Grower of The Year. it was not your typical story about a big commodity grower from Washington State. I read about how he went to England and saw these strange trees with strange apples grown for the purpose of making cider and decided to try and plant them in New Hampshire as a way to save his farm. I couldn’t believe how amazing that seemed. I got in my car and drove up there unannounced. He could have laughed at me or blown me off, but he was actually quite gracious- tasting me though various barrels of bittersweets and sharps. I was smitten. He told me that I had to go to England and take a class on cider making. He also let me cut a bunch of scion wood from his trees which I took back to the orchard and top worked on to older trees. The wood those trees grew out I used to graft my first round of cider tress and top graft many more trees.
While Steve was a great inspiration, and is in my mind the godfather of the real cider revival in this country, he was too far away to be a mentor. I did travel to the UK in 2000 and took a class from Peter Mitchel, which was a start, an introduction. I also traveled around a bit and visited various cideries, from the small rustic farmers making scrumpy to the massive Bulmer’s factory. But I had an idea about a different kind of cider, inspired by the quality Rieslings some Finger Lakes Wineries were beginning to turn out. This kind of cider could be well made with high quality apples as an expression of the fruit of the land of our region.
The early days were a time when there was pretty much no one with experience to turn to for advice. I learned a lot from failure after failure, and have dumped more than my share of bad cider. Meeting my husband Ezra, and having him become involved in the cider making was a great leap forward. Together, we’ve also benefited greatly from the wine making and apple growing knowledge base that exists here in the Finger Lakes. This, combined with a desire to each year make better cider than the last .
2. What are the details of the Orchard. What’s the size, number of trees? Age of the Orchard and history of the land it is on?
We have orchards in two sites. The first site, our partner’s orchard, is on an east facing slope at 1,100 ft elevation just South of Ithaca. The soil, Howard’s Gravely Loam, is a deposit from the shore of a glacial lake (glacial till). It’s basically over 80 feet of very well-drained, high lime gravel. The trees are 40-year-old dessert varieties that have been top grafted over to cider varieties. It’s about 12 acres medium density orchard (25’x10′).
Our second site is about 9 miles South, just over the Portage Escarpment where the Northern Appalachian Plateau begins to rise in to Pennsylvania. Also on an east facing site at 1,100′ elevation, these orchards are planted in the native Lordstown Silt Loam (a shallow, shale based soil) on steep hillsides cut away by glaciers. Here we have 8 acres of plantings ranging from 10 years old to 3 years old. Most are med/high density at (5’x20′). Next year we’ll be planting a larger spacing with standard sized rootstock as well and a tall spindle planting in a couple of years.
One neat thing about this site is that it has a 200-year-old Northern Spy orchard planted on terraces made using horses. Sadly the trees had been neglected for too long and there is nothing left to salvage, but we took cuttings and are clearing the spot to replant.
3. What is your own background prior to operating a cidery? Education? Early careers?
Not much. I barely graduated high school. I did try college (Cornell) after traveling in Europe and the US, but I quit after a semester.
4. With the Kingston Black and the Northern Spy there is great opportunity to explore the impact of your orchard’s terroir on the ciders you make. Have you discovered anything in particular, yet, about any unique characteristics that end up in these or other ciders that you can attribute to the orchard’s terroir?
We have a really privileged opportunity to have to very different locations as well as several growers in our local area growing great cider apples which we can either taste side by side or in some cases taste cider side by side (Eric Shatt made a Kingston Black this year). I would say that generally, the same is true for apples as for grapes: over cropping, irrigating, rich soil and lots of chemicals and fertilizers results in characterless apples. Organic growing methods, low yields, infertile soils, and little or no irrigation leads to richer more concentrated tannin and aromas. Beyond that, I would say that this is the beginning of a very exciting time when we’ll begin to learn more about that notion as more of our planting come into bearing are more cidermakers begin experimenting with single variety ciders.
5. One thing that has struck me is the purity of fruit that appears in so many of your bottlings. In many, the apple aroma and flavor is intense and linear, whether dry or semi-dry. Is this something that you strive for? To what do you attribute this?
Fruit is the focus of our cidermaking efforts, although we hope our ciders don’t come across as “fruity” or “appley”. Our focus is on growing really good apples and guiding them through a fermentation that results in an expression of those apples that really gets to the core of what they are and the complexity of what they are. I would say our style is minimalist, (but don’t construe that to mean that “in” term where you do nothing and let nature take its course.) I mean it in the sense that the fruit is unadorned. I attribute these qualities to using very good fruit, keeping our cidery and our fermentations clean, not using unnecessary additives and the natural secondary fermentation which gives tiny bubbles which lift aromas out of the glass.
6. At this point in the history of Eve’s Cidery and your commercial cider making, what remain the biggest challenges to success? For that matter, how would you measure success?
That is an interesting question. I think we need to be able to be more financially stable to feel successful and what we need for that is for the market to recognize and be willing to pay for the pleasure that a great quality cider can bring. Another way I would measure success is to be able to make cider that gives a transcending experience. I feel that each year we get closer, but that it may take a lifetime to make a cider that meets that standard.
Lastly, I think that success will be defined for us in having a viable sustainable farm that is able to support our livelihoods by making a something that brings pleasure to people’s lives using renewable energy and organic perennial agriculture that is appropriate and scaled to the soils and topography of our region and in doing that showing our community and the world that our little spot on earth is too precious to ruin for the short-term economic gain of fracking for fossil fuel. We put a lot of effort into this goal and in some ways we are doing great and in some ways we have a long way to go.
7. There is obviously a cider revival going on in the beverage industry and among consumers. Can you tell me to what you attribute the somewhat sudden increase in interest in cider? And can you talk a bit about the cider marketplace as you see it currently. The pros, the cons, the problems and the opportunities.
I attribute the feeling that cider is happening now to reaching some kind of critical mass, a tipping point if you will. Enough cidermakers have convinced enough people to drink cider and tell their friends about it.
The biggest problems are a lack of true cider varieties and a lack of ciders being made from apples that were grown for fermenting. Orchards and ciders are a long-term project, and don’t lend themselves to the capitalistic get rich quick mentality. Until people start investing in growing cider orchards, and paying a premium for good cider fruit, the market is going to be flooded with mediocre ciders made from cheap cull eating apples that need grape tannin, sugar and adjuncts like blueberries to make them interesting. Which is all fine and well, but may be limited to a certain market.
8. What is your view of the entrance into the cider market of the large brewers with their relatively high sugar ciders that are marketed more like beer than wine. And do you agree with that characterization?
I disagree with the characterization that products like Smith and Forge are cider, since their actual apple content (concentrate or otherwise) is questionable. For the most part I try to ignore that stuff, although I find the disingenuous marketing language like “hand-picked apples” and “premium dry cider” kind of irritating. I guess when you actually have to explicitly say that stuff on your packaging it’s a sure sign you wouldn’t otherwise know it from consuming the product. In any case, people who like that stuff would probably hate our cider, so I don’t really consider it to be in the same category. They just happen to be allowed to use the name “cider”
9. Can you identify other ciders that you personally enjoy, that might inspire you and that you drink when the opportunity arises? Have you tried many of the ciders from across the country?
We get together with a group of local cidermakers and wine professionals to taste commercially available ciders several times a year. We try to trade with other cidermakers to get what we can’t buy locally. Some of my favorite ciders are Eric Bordelet, Farnum Hill, West County and Redbyrd Orchard. A German Cider maker once sent me a case of champagne style cider, which I thought was excellent, but I can’t remember the name.
10. Who is Eve?
Pete Seeger is a great hero of mine, and Eve’s is a character in his song “Letter to Eve”. The song is a conversation between a pacifist and a freedom fighter, with Adam and Eve playing the characters. In the song, Eve is the one promoting action over passivity and that is a sentiment I relate strongly too.
Also, Eve has a long history with apples, and it’s hard to resist making the reference.