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. Ownership of cider belongs to the location. 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.  

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Restaurants: Learn

You got to know this: "wine coolers" are not wine, ketchup is not tomato sauce, and "hard cider" is not cider. Sorry to burst your bubble but the token cider most restaurants and wine bars offer truly is analogous to ketchup.  

Does that sound extreme? Well, it is not. In fact, the more one investigates ketchup and common American hard cider the more the comparison becomes eerily accurate. Ultimately, you would conclude that true cider (or just cider) and American "hard cider" are so vastly different that they wouldn't even belong in the same category, and the mere proximity to one another on a menu is an insult. To confuse the two, or blur the lines, is a failure to represent simplicity, nature, and the truth to the customer.

Let me ask you: Is it possible for a vineyard and wine producer outside of Lyon to produce an inexpensive drink that appeals to American tastes, and enough to stock every restaurant, grocery store and 7eleven in North America? Of course not. The farms are too small for those quantities and true wine is not stretched with water and fabricated in a factory. Sure, "wine coolers" are in every store in America, but wine coolers are not wine; and hard cider is not cider. It's that simple.

If a restaurant wants to offer the full range of ciders made in America, both the industrial hard cider and the true farm cider, then they should put true ciders under the wine category and the hard ciders under the beer category. Beer is a recipe, the variations occur in the processing, whereas wine is a crop and the variations are achieved in the field. That's how hard cider and true cider are different as well. 

I am only partially supportive of the rise of hard cider in America because I am advocate for farmers, and there are a lot of unused dessert apples out there. But a true cider-maker should not concern themselves with that market. The hard cider market may rise or fall, but cider is forever.  From the farm, to the processing, to the market and in it's culinary place in human culture, true cider distinguishes itself as a completely different product to hard cider.

So let me say one more time: that sweet "appely" taste in those beer-can 'hard ciders' is no more representational of fermented apples than ketchup is representational of tomato sauce. Keep thinking about ketchup next time you consider hard cider. And thank my friend Amy for the great metaphor!...