Thursday, May 25, 2017

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

(For CSA details and available ciders see link: AB Ciders)
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.
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