Planting the Seeds of an Artisan Cider Industry in America

AppOrchardThe recent reports of shortage of cider apples in the U.S. in the wake of the hard cider drinking boom presents some fairly obvious opportunities for experienced and not-so-experienced orchardists alike. Clearly, more apple orchards are in our future. The interesting question, however, will be how and why those orchards get planted.

When the wine boom came to the California wine industry in the 1970s, the first thing to happen was the planting of new vineyards to supply the growing demand for wine grapes. This was the moment when Cabernet and Chardonnay and Zinfandel and other varieties consumers knew began to replace an older stock of grape varieties. American vintners planted the grapes that allowed them to emulate the French, Italians and Germans.

However, not so much care was given to WHERE those grapes were planted. As a result, we ended up with things like Cabernet in Monterey County, Pinot Noir in warm climates and other varietal plantings that didn’t attempt to match grape to the appropriate climate.

I’m wondering to what degree this same mistake might play out as new apple and pear orchards are planted to address the cider boom.

I think today orchardists and cider makers have the advantage of being more in tune with the concept of terroir and the idea of matching the correct variety of apple to terroir. Additionally, I can’t believe it will escape the notice of cidermakers and orchardists that in the wine business, vines that are recognized for being planted in exactly the right place produce better grapes, which bring a higher price. Meanwhile the wines made from those grapes demand higher prices.

The cider industry has yet to begin the process in earnest of carving up regions in proper cider apple producing locales the way the wine industry has with its AVAs (American Viticultural Areas). No doubt that certain broad regions like Oregon, Washington, New York, New England and Northern California among others are recognized for their superior apples. And there are now promotional organizations meant to publicize the ciders made from apples grown in these regions, deal with poitical issues and provide support to cideries. This is a very good start.

There is no doubt that the current shortage of apples for cider will result in the planting of dessert apples, the sweet, low acid apples that are appropriate for the remarkably sweet ciders that most Americans now consume. These apples won’t demand the kind of high prices that the rarer bittersweets, sharps and bittersharps demand. But they will still be planted as they will easily be sold.

It’s going to be up to the artisan cidermakers and artisan orchardists to plant the real cider apples. And it’s going to be up to these same people to give deep consideration to the concept of terroir and apple growing. This latter task is not an easy one to embark on. It takes experimentation and it takes a good long time to draw conclusions about which apples grow best where. But they should do it. In the long run it will benefit them financially. And it will benefit the American cider industry, not to mention cider lovers.

I’m betting on the artisan cidermakers and orchardists.

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