At the turn of the 20th century more than 11,000 acres of Sonoma County land was devoted to apple orchards. Many of those acres were devoted to producing the Gravenstein apple. Today, no more than 500 acres are planted to apples. But if the cider revival currently under way in the U.S. has its way, that number is bound to increase.
Located in Sonoma County today are five producers of hard cider: Ace Cider, Devoto Orchards, Murray’s Cider, Sonoma Cider and Tilted Shed Ciderworks. These five may seem like a lonely group, but considering that relatively few regions of the country give any land to producing apples for cider production, this number in such a relatively small space marks the county as special in the cider world.
The problem that the county’s cider producers face, however, is that 500 acres or so of apple trees. They need more. One of the problems stems from the fact that Pinot Noir grapes from Sonoma County sell in the neighborhood of $3,000 per ton. Meanwhile Gravenstein apples sell for around $300 per ton. If you are a farmer, grapes are hard to resist.
While the gravenstein apple can and does serve as the base for outstanding cider—Tilted Shed and Devoto both produce such a cider—what these cider producers want are traditional cider apples, which unlike the gravenstein are normally inedible. However, these cider producers are willing to pay more for traditional cider-making apples and this could serve as a real encouragement for orchardists considering whether to stick with apples rather than going to grapes.
THE SONOMA CIDERIES
Ace Premium Hard Ciders (California Cider Company)
The first Ace Cider was released 20 years ago in 1994. Today, Ace produces upwards of six ciders, some of which are distributed nationally. Of Sonoma’s five cideries, Ace is the easiest to find and best distributed. Ace also has a tasting room open to the public. It is located at 2064 Gravenstein Hwy N., #40, Sebastopol, CA.
The Devoto family grows its own apples for their craft ciders and have over the years grown more than 100 varieties of apples. Among their ciders is the “Save the Gravenstein” blend that highlights the locally prized Gravenstein apple. It is a beautiful cider and available primarily locally. Devoto Orchards is located at 655 Gold Ridge Road Sebastopol, CA.
Murray’s Hard Cider
Founded in 1998 in Petaluma, California, Murray’s produces craft hard cider only from organically grown apples. Three different ciders are currently produced: Ncider, Vintage Cyder and Reserve Cider. Murray’s is located at 2200 Pine View Way, Suite C, Petaluma, CA.
Sonoma Cider is the new kid on the Sonoma Block and has quickly ramped up its distribution, both locally and nationally. Located in the northern Sonoma County town of Healdsburg, Sonoma Cider produces three ciders: The Hatchet, a straight hard apple cider; The Pitchfork, a pear cider; The Anvil: a bourbon-flavored apple cider.
Tilted Shed Ciderworks
Tilted Shed is a small, husband and wife operation located in Sebastapol. The small production craft cidery has impressed many cider enthusiasts including this writer. They currently produce five different ciders from Sonoma County-grown apples including two that have been very well reviewed here: The January Barbecued Smoked Cider, and their Lost Orchard Dry Cider produced from a single, ancient vineyard located somewhere in Sonoma County.