Wednesday, May 29, 2013

2012 Vintage: Northeast Apples

Briefly: 2012 was defined by an early thaw, early blossom, and subsequent frost which decimated what little crop was anticipated for an off year for apples. (Naturally apples go biennial and fruit every other year or sometimes even three or four year.  Commercial farms manipulate the tree to fruit yearly but I'm referring to old-school apple production and wild apples.)  After a wet Spring and cool dry Summer the season turned out pretty good, the brix were high and fruit was clean.  The problem for cider, apart from shortages and all-around price spikes, was the early harvest.  With an early harvest traditional-style cider makers are left to ferment in warmer then usual temperatures and for longer (starting in September rather then Oct./ Nov.)
   I can't speak for cider makers who temperature regulate the fermentation or add champagne yeast but I can speak for traditional cider making which requires a cellar and a long winter for aging. Usually the fermentation begins in late October and the cold temperatures of late November stop the fermentation just short of dry.  It is then aged and in the Spring it picks up again and goes into MLF.  This year the early apples were bone dry in storage and had even started the MLF pre-winter, but the late apples kept their pattern.  In fact a long cold Spring in 2013 really help age the cider and the initial fruit quality was deeply infused.  If the harvest were three weeks later the 2012 season might have been the banner year we compare all others with because the Winter and 2013 Spring were perfect.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Making Wine -vs- Making Cider

   If you can make good cider you can make good wine, but not the other way around.  For one thing, cider is more difficult to "stabilize", it has less alcohol, the acids are different and lower (higher PH), and it has less tannin.  But more notably, the flavors of cider are more subtle and aloof.  By the time you master blending cider the variations in wine seem easily identifiable and ready to pair.   
   Yet when I hear what my colleagues in the wine industry do to make, say a chardonnay, I'm disappointed by the by-the-book approach they all seem to take.  It's as though academia has given them a "how to" on wine:  You add sugar if the brix aren't right, you add acid if the T.A. is off.  You sulfite the must so that lab yeasts have a sterile start, you sulfite at each rack and you sulfite at bottle for ML bacteria and oxidation.  And is it necessary to use a sterile filter?  Forgettaboutit! Who doesn't?
   This is the cider-makers advantage.  We don't have decades of formula to draw upon and we are given the opportunity to figure it out on our own.  Individually reinventing the wheel trains us to trust our instincts and we learn to self-critique without bias or expectation.  We are more more likely to ignore teachers, advise from "professionals", and even the feedback from the market.  If we can maintain our innocence our products will preserve a spontaneity, creativity and uniqueness lacking in most wine.  Quickly, professionals and academia are jocking for authority in today's revamped cider market, some want to establish a standard, but I elect we maintain a healthy skepticism as cider develops down the path blazed by wine.  Truth is, we need both, explanation and exploration, but we are blessed with fewer hang-ups in our "new" market.  We are free to be kids, and I feel sorry for those self-imprisoned by the tag authority.