It may be a matter of simply not being able to recall specifics, but I cannot remember any time in the past 25 years when American winemaking was threatened by a significant lack of raw materials: grapes. Perhaps there was a time back in the 1990s when vineyards were being replanted due to phylloxera when wineries could not meet demand due to a dearth of grapes.
However, according to Modern Farmer Magazine, this is exactly the situation that American Hard Cider producers face. And, of course, it comes right in the midst of the biggest boom in cider sales this country has seen in decades.
According to the Beer Institute, hard cider sales in the U.S. have increased 264% between 2005 and 2012. A huge chunk of that growth has come in the last few years as a near 50/50 split of men and women have happily bought up the lower alcohol, lighter bodied, gluten free commercial and craft ciders that have come to the American marketplace.
The problem for most craft cider producers is that the waxy Red Delicious, Honeycrisps, Fuji and other dessert apples one finds in supermarkets are not what the cidermakers need. To make fine cider, one needs bittersweet, bittersharp and other types “cider apples” that most of us would simply gag upon tasting for the high acids or high tannins they deliver. The problem is that for most apple growers, there is more money today in growing the dessert apples that end up in the supermarkets.
The problem with this problem is that we really don’t have good estimates of what the demand for and supply of cider apples really is. All we know is cider producers who are pressing their own juice rather than buying concentrate from China tell us they can’t find enough proper apples. On the other hand, what we are seeing across the country is not merely an increase in craft cider production, but an increase in the planting of orchards specifically for the production of hard cider. A recent review here of a Sonoma, California-based Tilted Shed Ciderworks bottling also indicated its owners were planting their own apple orchard in that famous apple region and experimenting with a number of different varieties of apples. They are not alone.
The dismal science tells us that the price of craft ciders should increase as demand outstrips supply. From my perspective, that’s just fine. Today, the best craft ciders on the market (the very best) might cost $25.00 at most and likely cost less. That’s accessible and I have no problem seeing craft cider producers put a little more money in their pocket. It will only encourage the emergence of more craft cider producers.
Still, it appears we need some trees.