Printing a “Batch #” or a”Lot #” on the label or printing it on the cork where it can’t be seen are just a few of the ways cideries get away communicating the harvest date of the apples that went into making a cider. They must be surreptitious about calling out the harvest date on a bottle of cider for the simple reason that a label that includes the year the apples were harvested won’t gain approval from the Federal government since it is illegal to place that information on the label of a cider. Many cideries, as a result, rely on their website to communicate this important information. While others get tricky.
Personally, I find it gratifying that many of those cideries that produced ciders with apples grown in a single year make the effort to communicate the harvest date, despite its illegality. Certainly knowing the cider’s age offers a real benefit to the drinker. Additionally, it’s fascinating to track how the weather in a given year changes the character of ciders that are produced year in and year out from the same source.
As an aside, I don’t use the more common term, “Vintage Date”. To my mind, it is simply too wine-centric a term (“Vin”) to be appropriate for cider produced from apples.
Of course, not all ciders need a harvest date on the package. Many are produced with concentrates that defy the impact of climate and terroir. In those cases, what I’d like to see cideries start doing is placing a “Bottling Date” on the cider just so I know how old or how fresh it is when I open it.
Before harvest dates can be prominently and legally placed on ciders, there will have to be a change in federal law, and that means getting Congress up to the task. That job will likely fall on the United States Association of Cider Makers (USACM). It was notable that in an article at VinePair late last year it was revealed that “the next big push on its (USACM) list is getting cider on a more level playing field with wine through vintage designation.”
Until they are successful, cider drinkers will simply have to seek out the various types of clues cideries place on their bottles.