Thursday, May 25, 2017

The 2016 vintage (if the Fed lets me call it that)



Greetings to you all,
May 2017: The trees, the cider, Polly and I are all emerging from dormancy and ready for a new growing season while simultaneously welcoming the product from last years’ fruit. We are accustom to Springs’ double workload after the natural period of rest, but this year the beating sounds of winter’s fury threatened to disrupt our slumber. And it was a warm winter.
2016 was by many standards a disaster –I’m speaking agriculturally now. Blossom-time frosts erased the apple crop for the majority of the apple growers in the Northeast. Then following the warm, dry winter of 2015-16, the growing season was defined by prolonged drought. In all, it was a stressful year for the trees. (They responded by setting-up fruit buds for an abundant 2017 season.)
For those who did have apples last year, the Fall was the one bright spot. It too was dry but that’s when you want it to be so. We started getting our cool nights later than usual but the frost-free period lasted well into November creating a good ripening period. I have no qualms about the mild December because that’s when I’m outside cleaning barrels and accidentally spraying myself with the hose. Unfortunately, the winter, especially January, was way too mild and that’s when trees and cider are supposed to be at rest. For the second straight year our ciders were dry by February, threatening the “fruit” notes (In 2012 I learned to prepare for this with Sussreserves.)  
Despite all the environmental stresses (and I’m not just talking agriculturally now) the 2016 ciders, as limited as they are in quantity, still managed to triumph over it all. I think that speaks directly of the apple tree. Foraging under abandoned trees now for almost 25 years I have an inkling why they are known as the tree of wisdom. With a better perspective on time and a more sensitive feel for what’s going on in the environment, the apple tree calmly and wisely decides how to deal with what life throws at it. In contrast to our hysterics and brutal decisions, the apple tree is the champion of acclimation. It is not an “invasive”, but it knows how to assimilate to new and existing factors. And just like its juice sitting dormant in the winter barrel, it all comes together no thanks to our presumed intelligence.
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So what are we looking at this year? As mentioned a killing frost found the blossoms in most of the Northeast but in higher elevations the trees held onto dormancy a bit longer and escaped. We had apples along the Shawangunk Ridge, the Neversink Highlands, and in the high valleys of the East Branch. Those trees had fruit but that still doesn’t mean they were loaded –it was going to be an off-year anyhow. So in total, we have less than 10% our previous Homestead Apple year and about 75% the quantities of Appinette and Elderberry Cider from farmed apples. And that brings us to the CSA, our first release of those ciders.
If I could, I’d love to sit down with each and every customer who tries these ciders to discuss the background of each product, to introduce ourselves and our methods, and to show you real-world examples of free apple trees (a rarity these days.) But alas, we can’t engage with customers year-round while still maintaining our focus on the trees and cider. We are “back-of-the-house” artists devoted to the language of taste; our goal is to create the conditions that allow the trees to speak for themselves. They are the subjects, but they require our whole presence.  
Our solution is to have two CSA days each year to welcome cider supporters to our home. During these two days you can hangout and sample the range, talk shop with in the cider barn, walk the orchards, or just pick up your cases. No Instagram post can capture the miracle of real apple trees, perhaps no cider can either. But for you to be here, the cider drinker, that’s another spoke in the wheel. It completes the cycle. Whether you come here or not, we thank you immensely for completing the whole.
Sincerely, Andy Brennan and Polly Giragosian

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Wine Flaws



  It’s so much easier conversing with the internationally good-looking people of Miami Beach. It's like you don’t even need to introduce yourself, you can just tell right away these are deep, interesting people and you are going to hit it off perfectly. In contrast, in rural cultures -such as mine up there in the mountains of New York -it’s always a total surprise when you meet someone of interest. You just wouldn't expect it by looking them!
  Every winter I go down to Miami so that I can relate to people without all those flaws in the way- Big noses, love-handles, crooked teeth and splotchy skin… how is anyone supposed to get to know you? What a relief it is to be in Miami where the men are all sculpted as if by Michelangelo and the women seem painted by Botticelli (except with larger breasts, of course.) They know perfection takes time, but it’s worth it.
  Perfect people, by definition, don’t have flaws. They don’t have barriers hanging out preventing us from digging deeper and blocking the way from getting to know the person behind the face. I mean seriously, why can’t everyone else in the world just do the work? Maybe it’s because rural people still believe in God and not science? I don't know, just guess. Because everyone knows that after the Enlightenment science has made this planet a lot healthier than ever before! Or maybe it’s just because rural people don’t have the money to be perfect? Whatever their hangups are, I hope they evolve soon because it is one ugly planet out there. How are we to ever get to know one another with flaws still not conquered?

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   I wrote this satire after a conversation about ‘wine flaws’ with a notable cider/ wine buyer. Her take on the subject is that flaws are inherently distracting. She sorts through a drink like my East Branch cider as an auditor or inspector would, taking inventory of the notes, rather than experiencing them as flow in an overall story. My argument, or defense to flaws, is that if the apples have deep and positive character then the flaws can even enhance the experience and make the cider more human. It should be noted that this buyers is also well versed on Western European ciders, naturally fermented ciders like in Normandy or Somerset, where "clean" cider doesn't even exist. So to hear criticism of earthy or farmy notes confuses me. I see those qualities as layers in a complex orchestra.

  But let's be clear, we are not talking about overwhelming flaws, or purposely introduced yeast traits. Objectionable issues or contrived yeast styles do stick out like soar thumbs, and yes, they are a distraction from the apple (but in most poorly based ciders (as are most American ciders) that distraction is welcome.) No, what we are talking about in this essay are those faint farmy and earthy notes that you get in any high quality British or French cider, keeved or dry. These notes can also be briney, oaky, or even meaty but they are faint, peripheral and strangely complimentary to the mystery and message of the apple. How is that a flaw?

 Oh, I wish I could write more on this subject! There is so much about the American obsession with perfection and there is so much to our fear of flaws (and are they the same thing?) that I could write for months. For instance, I'm sure our need to conquer flaws in wine is completely related to monocultural farming, personal hygiene, and our national approach to human health! Ah, but the subject is too huge to take on in the middle of the pressing season. Perhaps this winter…

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Voice Mail From a Journalist


“Hello, Mr. Pollock? Would you prefer Jackson?
I’m calling because I’m writing a story about mid-century art and I'm hoping to hit you and Norman Rockwell up for interviews. Please give me a call back at your earliest convenience. Thanks!” 
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OK, I’m not comparing myself to Lee Krasner’s baldie, and I’m certainly not comparing cider to fine art, but a situational analogy exists here. How many times do I get calls from journalists wanting to do a story on cider? And although I’ve tried and tried to illuminate the massive depths apples are capable of, in the end the final article is always just an all-inclusive survey of "the cider category." And if that's all you can report on, I would gladly retire to magazine obscurity rather than see my work and the life of real cider trees reduced to a few sentences in a short essay about contemporary commercial cider. Fuck you that, I know a "cider maker" who is the face (#Instagram) of a major cider company who would gladly answer your calls and mislead you about true cider. If want to believe American cider producers stand united in their efforts, HE is the person to call. 

If Jackson Pollock heard his art work put compared in context with the customer-friendly, child-friendly, illustrations of Norman Rockwell I’m pretty sure his liver would see some immediate damage. But the two “artists” were rarely in context with one another because there existed a separate world for "fine art" and "commercial art”. (Which is really commercial illustration and not art. Sorry marketing team: what you do isn't art!) 

But why is having separate worlds so hard to establish with cider? Why do the lines keep getting blurred when fine art and commercial art are NEVER put in the same context with one another? The answers are multiple:
    -The small cider producer is too isolated and economically powerless to broadcast the truth; the big and medium-sized producers lie to the customer and steal the verbiage of the artisan producer; the customer is lazy and doesn’t hold producers accountable for their marketing misdirection; Americas apple farmers are complicit with the misdirection because they want their orchards to be viable to a ‘hot’ industry; and journalists lack professional integrity and personal faith in the subject-

I have tried to expose all those other problems with my cryptic and voiceless little blog here, but for this entry let’s focus on the latter problem, the journalists. Why not? You are part of the problem! Ask yourself:
 -Are you guilty of sweeping a call list trying to hit-up everyone that appeared under your Goggle search for "cider"?
 -Are you trying to tie this story into another story like tourism, the fall season, new businesses in the area, etc., etc.?
 -Does this "cider story" somehow reflect well on the sponsors of your media? (Or maybe, it's just plain about them!?) Can you say, "product placement?"
 -Did you already imagine how this story will unfold even before you made your first call? Maybe it's already written (!) and now all you need are some press photos from cider producers to add legitimacy your non-expert opinion!
  
Does any of this sound like you? Um, That’s because you suck. You are just trying to use cider and someones' full life endeavor to promote yourself. Wake up! There is an actual story to discover if you stop making everything reflect back on yourself and your sponsors!

In contrast, let me tell you what good journalists do. (And I’ve had the pleasure of working with some excellent journalists and writers over the years. You know who you are.)
   They call and set-up an interview expecting to study the subject, not direct it. A good journalist listens to the subject and isolates them without trying to tie them into every little trend happening in the world today. They trust their own ability to write the story with the found material and they do not have preconceived notions or the word-counts in mind while the interview is taking place. They also trust the subject will be news-worthy, but just as importantly, they ditch the project if the subject is not news-worthy! And a good journalist starts months (even years) ahead of time rather then calling 3 days before submittal. 

OK, I'm getting a little side-track with my rant here. I don't know the problems you journalists face getting published but I'm tired of going over the same-old Cider 101 stuff with you. And I know magazines are not to blame for the lack of clarity between fine cider and commercial industrial cider but you certainly are not helping (save for a few good reporters) by blurring the lines for the reader. Dig deeper next time, the trees have. (Or should I say, the trees worthy of cider have.)