Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Ah, poor man!

THE era of the Wild Apple will soon be past. It is a fruit which will probably become extinct in New England. You may still wander through old orchards of native fruit of great extent, which for the most part went to the cider-mill, now all gone to decay. I have heard of an orchard in a distant town, on the side of a hill, where the apples rolled down and lay four feet deep against a wall on the lower side, and this the owner cut down for fear they should be made into cider. Since the temperance reform and the general introduction of grafted fruit, no native apple-trees, such as I see everywhere in deserted pastures, and where the woods have grown up around them, are set out. I fear that he who walks over these fields a century hence will not know the pleasure of knocking off wild apples. Ah, poor man, there are many pleasures which he will not know! Notwithstanding the prevalence of the Baldwin and the Porter, I doubt if so extensive orchards are set out to-day in my town as there were a century ago, when those vast straggling cider-orchards were planted, when men both ate and drank apples, when the pomace-heap was the only nursery, and trees cost nothing but the trouble of setting them out. Men could afford then to stick a tree by every wall-side and let it take its chance. I see nobody planting trees to-day in such out-of-the-way places, along the lonely roads and lanes, and at the bottom of dells in the wood. Now that they have grafted trees, and pay a price for them, they collect them into a plat by their houses, and fence them in, -- and the end of it all will be that we shall be compelled to look for our apples in a barrel.
-Thoreau, 1862
No, the wild apple did not go extinct but the way of life most certainly did. I want you to pay special attention the those significant words, "pay a price", in which Thoreau cryptically reveals to us the cause of the inevitable ruin. That cider, and the tree from which it sprung, became an artifice of man's economy.

We don't live in that world anymore. We live in a commercial world with commercial cider from commercial orchards. But the apple is still finding ways to escape! What a miracle of nature!!! There is hope yet for us too.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Again, Wine or Beer?

What is wine? You know the answer to that, but, let me ask you what is the "soul of wine?" It is: the grape vines, the farm, the region, and the people. It's the whole economy around the wine, the whole ecology around the farm, and the whole culture around the people producing wine. In short: It's the whole. The soul of fine-wine exists in a whole, or it does not exist at all.

That being said, in the way-more-than-cider established world of fine wine it's extremely frowned upon for producers to buy grapes, grape must, or finished wine from another region and then market it as "their wine." In the broader wine world there are plenty of exceptions, but in the fine wine world it's clear as day: that's just not done. It erases the location at the foundation of it all. Even in weather disasters, fine-wine producers don't go on to the global market for "their" grapes. It undermines the soul of wine.

Unlike wine, beer is produced in factories. (Or, 99.9% of it is. How many micro-brewers really grow their own ingredients? (And by really, I mean ALL of their ingredients, not just a few hops here and there.)) Beer producers work with ingredients from the commodity market and they make magic from it. Yes, I love beer. But beer is not anything like wine. Let's be clear on that.

So what is cider? I'm pretty fanatical on this point: The soul of cider originates in the location where the apples come from. The soul is predates even the trees. The ownership of a cider belongs to the location of the trees. There is no such thing as a city cider unless the harvest comes entirely from within that city. Likewise, I don't know how someone can purchase apples from afar and call it "their cider." The location of the apple source should never be hidden. It's reprehensible to do so.

But that's me. Maybe I'm wrong. Maybe cider has climbed a new plateau where it can have a soul like wine and capitalize, like beer, on commodity purchasing for mass-production. Hurray for cider! But I doubt it. 

Monday, April 4, 2016

Pop Quiz

What's the #1 grape in California and the world?
Is it Merlot, Pinot Noir, or Chardonnay?
Think it might be Zinfandel?
Wrong again.
The answer is Sultana.
"But that's impossible," you might say, "I've never heard of it!"
Ah, but you have! In fact, you know it quite it well. You know it as a large, pale green seedless grape available in every grocery store in America. It's a "table grape", not a "wine grape". But because Sultana is not used for wine it holds a different place in social and commercial contexts. It is, for lack of a better analogy, an entirely different product than those wine grapes named above.

Because of the fact that nearly 100% of the wines in America use only "wine grapes" and nearly 100% of the grocery-stores sell only "table grapes" we have evolved two different agricultural systems for grapes. There's the viticulture famously thriving in the Napa Valley, for instance, and then there's the massive grape farms located in less traveled regions which produce the blemish-free seedless grapes for super markets. Very rarely are wine grapes and table grapes grown on the same farm.

See where I'm going with this? Ever wonder why cider, from America's favorite fruit, is not revered as a fine drink in the U.S. anymore? And now that every apple farm in the country is producing cider these days, do you stop to ponder why all these ciders taste like a watered-down version of a sweet white wine? Do you question why it's so cheap compared to wine? The secret to this lies right there in the Sultana grape. Nearly 100% of the apple farms in America are growing the Sultana equivalent apple and trying to pass it off as equivalent to Merlot. It is not, and I repeat, NOT cider fruit.  

So in the end we have a ruse. We have an exploding industry based almost entirely (no exaggeration) on a fruit that does not exist on American farms. Save but a fraction of 1%, there are no apples cultivated for producing fine cider. What you are drinking is Sultana in a champagne bottle with an elaborate marketing story.
Post script disclaimer: I want to make it perfectly clear that Aaron Burr Cider is also effected by the limited state of apples in America. In our 750ml line of ciders (our "fruit-wine" ciders, blended with other fruit like elderberry and grape) we too use "sultana equivalent" apples, apples which were planted and cultivated on table apple farms. It's for this reason we have always kept this line separate from the pure cider line in the 500ml bottles (the Homestead line.)
The purpose of this post is to prod the cider industry forward by way of cider apple cultivation. Relying on conventional apple farms presents a conflict of interest.