There’s a lot of love for wine in Virginia. What some of you might not know is that part of the wine industry in Virginia also includes cideries. At the moment, there are 2 cideries in VA, Foggy Ridge Cider and Albemarle CiderWorks. A third cidery, Castle Hill Cider, will be opening this summer, and a few more are expected in the coming year or two. Despite the fact that these cideries are on the Virginia wine map, the same buzz isn’t out there around cider yet. Diane Flynt from Foggy Ridge and Charlotte and Chuck Shelton from CiderWorks want to change this; we do as well. Given this, when they invited us to join a group of other bloggers, winemakers, and writers at CiderWorks for an afternoon of cider tasting and cider education, we immediately agreed.
In addition to Diane and the whole CiderWorks crew, we joined Frank from Drink What You Like, Paul and Warren from Virginia Wine Time, Nancy and Rick from VA Wine in My Pocket, Jacqueline and Ben Rullman from Mountfair Vineyards, Kat and Stephen Barnard from Keswick Vineyards, Andy and Neely Reagan from Jefferson Vineyards, Mary Ann Dancisin from the Virginia Wine Gazette, Amy Ciarametaro from the Virginia Wine Board Marketing Office, a contingent from Flavor Magazine, and Stuart Madany from Castle Hill Cider. Over 2 hours, we were able to sample the ciders produced by each cidery and learn about apple growing, cider making, and the challenges and excitements of this growing industry from Diane, Charlotte, and Chuck.
So, what did we learn…. Well, we learned that both Foggy Ridge and CiderWorks are excited for the growth of the cider industry generally and the cider industry in VA in particular. They welcome more producers as a greater variety of options just increases the likelihood that people will be aware of cider and find one (or more) that appeal to them. In order to see significant growth in the cider industry, however, there needs to be a significant increase in the number of growers focusing on cider apples as many of the apples used to make cider do not make for good table apples. Their combined passion for all aspects of the cider business, however, is contagious, and I have great confidence that they can help others who have an interest in reviving a cider culture in America.
Cider was a daily drink in Colonial America as water was often not safe to drink, and cider making was just a typical part of life for a great number of people. Because of this, it’s important that you know to expect a lighter, and perhaps more refreshing, beverage when tasting cider as opposed to wine. You’ll also typically find a lower alcohol content in cider. (Virginia law currently caps it at 7% in order to call it cider, but it will likely change this summer to allow up to 10% given that some ciders ferment to a higher alcohol content and cider makers don’t want to have to artificially water their product back.) You should also know that VA doesn’t allow for harvest years on cider labels. That said, they are vintage products, and when tasting at a cidery, you can likely find out the vintage year of the beverage being sold. You should also know that craft cider bears little resemblance to the commercially produced ciders you’re most likely to find in supermarkets and bars. Instead, these are made with heritage apples and use much less sugar. Finally, cider loves food. Whenever possible, taste ciders with some food. It can make a huge difference in how you perceive it (e.g., a young tannic red sampled on its own or with a piece of beef).
We alternated between CiderWorks and Foggy Ridge ciders along with samples of cheeses. We’ve had ciders from both producers in the past and are fans, but it was really informative to taste them side by side to gain a better sense of the voice of the cidermakers. For example, CiderWorks ciders tend to be a tad drier than those from Foggy Ridge and have the light, refreshing character that you’d expect from a water substitute. They’ve also chosen to sample and serve their cider in a glass reminiscent of traditional English cider glasses to help tasters differentiate the beverage from the more familiar wine samples. Foggy Ridge ciders, on the other hand, may strike a slightly more familiar chord with wine drinkers as they offer a slightly fuller mouthfeel, a bit more aromatic nose, and, according to cidermaker Diane Flynt, are best sampled from a wine glass.
Our tasting began with the CiderWorks ’09 Old Virginia Winesap ($16), a single varietal cider with .2% residual sugar (RS). My initial impression of this cider was of acidity, something I came to realize is a focus of Chuck’s. I noted both lemon and floral elements as I sipped along with a hint of bitterness that worked in this context. There was also a really interesting yeasty tanginess. I struggled with this cider a bit when I first sampled it a few months ago, but it’s definitely grown on me since then. Apparently this cider pairs wonderfully with salty VA ham, so I look forward to trying that pairing in the future.
Cider #2 was the ’09 Serious Cider from Foggy Ridge ($16) with .4% RS. This tannic cider offered caramel elements on the nose and some lemon, lime, and sweet apple flavors on the palate. This wine really came alive with some cheese, however, and the fat in the cheese helped tame the tannins a bit. (Yay Caromont Diary!)
Number 3 was the CiderWorks ’09 Royal Pippin ($16). I love this apple to eat out of hand, but I can also see why this is their bestselling cider. It has .25% RS and is very fruity and floral. Golden apples and yellow raspberry flavors are what I noted here. This also played incredibly well with an amazing sheep’s milk cheese from the Old Chatham Sheepherding Company that was perfectly runny.
We then moved on to the best selling cider from Foggy Ridge, the ’09 First Fruit ($16) with 1.2% RS. This is made primarily from Hewe’s Crabapples and offers a ton of fruit flavors, mostly tropical (e.g., mango, pinepple, etc.). All this fruit flavors lends to a greater perception of sweetness but there’s a nice backbone of acid that lends balance to the cider.
The ’09 Ragged Mountain blend ($16) from CiderWorks was up next. This one has .7% RS and shows that while Chuck may like doing varietal ciders, he’s also a great blender. This one offered a complex, layered experience that offered apple, tropical, and floral elements along with the acid I really appreciate.
The Foggy Ridge ’09 Sweet Stayman ($16) with 2.3% residual sugar immediately called to mind sweet tarts. The tannins and acid help balance out the sweetness, and it paired fairly well with the gouda we were snacking on by this point in the tasting. From personal experience, I can attest to this cider working wonderfully with spicy foods, and Diane heartily recommends pairing it with Thai food, chili, etc.
Our tasting ended with the ’09 Jupiter’s Legacy from CiderWorks ($16) and the ’08 Pippin Gold from Foggy Ridge ($25 for 375ml). The Jupiter’s Legacy was my favorite on the day. It was yeasty and did remind me of a sparkling wine in many ways. The Pippin Gold is a cider fortified with apple brandy (and exposed to some Hungarian oak) to produce a truly unique beverage with 18% alcohol. This is truly unique and just calls for a pairing with blue cheese after a meal.
If you can try these ciders at either tasting room, a local wine shop, or a restaurant, do so. It may take a few times trying them before you’re a convert; of course, most of us didn’t start drinking wine with big tannic reds either (I definitely recall some sweet pink supermarket juice in my past), but you should be open to this new experience.
To wrap up, I want to thank Diane and Frank for undertaking most of the work of organizing this event, and I want to thank the Shelton’s for their amazing hospitality (both for the tasting and after). After the tasting, most of us moved to their guest house for a cookout and wine/cider sampling free-for-all as we moved from a more formal learning experience to a less formal one.
A wide array of wines ended up on the table, but I best remember a 1988 cabernet from Linden that Amy brought with her. The wine had held up remarkably well, although it had definitely reached a more delicate phase. When it was first opened, I noticed a lot of herbal elements, but after 30 minutes in the glass, some soft, earthy fruit flavors became more prominent.
I am privileged to have been part of this group, and I hope that our sharing our experiences can encourage others to be open to experiencing the growing craft cider industry in Virginia. What are your experiences with and impressions of cider (in VA or elsewhere)?
The Go Forth and Spread the Word! by Swirl, Sip, Snark, unless otherwise expressly stated, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.