Golden State cider 2019 harvest sonoma county, calfornia
The way we make cider relies only on the hard work and care the apple farmers put into growing the fruit that we will eventually crush and ferment into cider. The techniques they use, the microclimate of the area they are located, and the type of soil that binds the tree to the earth all impact the way the fruit, and thus the resulting cider will taste and be experienced by you. The sense of place that is contributed to the cider in this way is better known as terroir, and is the central focus of our Harvest Series and California Farm Series Ciders. This blog is a compendium of our apple harvest experience in California, both in our backyard of West Sonoma County, as well as across the entire state from Mendocino County down to Ventura County. Included here are educational pieces to help you better understand our cidermaking process, direct anecdotes of my experience with our local farmers, as well as data and shorthand notes that will be used as we prepare to blend our final ciders Winter 2018 was one of the coldest, wettest winters we’ve had in recent years, especially following the droughts of the mid 2010s. Depending on variety, our apples trees require different amounts of chilling hours, whereby the tree moves into a more dormant state. Think of this as resetting the internal clock of the tree, so that it can proceed through the rest of its natural stages uniformly. The result of such a cool, wet winter was that both Bloom and Fruit Set were both about 2 weeks behind what is usually expected from our team of farmers. Now, there is a lot that happens between Fruit Set and Harvest, but the assumption was that Harvest would come later than usual in Sonoma County.
1ST WEEK OF AUGUST 2019 Gravensteins are the first apples to come off the trees in Sonoma County. Depending on desired ripeness that can happen as early as late July for processing or later into August and September for Cider Making. As we approached Grav season we were expecting that harvest would push into September, however a few hot streaks in mid-August that reached over 100 F, caused the fruit to really start to fall quickly. Since the entire cycle of the tree started a bit later than usual, the fruit, while dropping due to heat, was not fully ripened yet. Fruit dropping makes a farmer pretty nervous when they mostly pick for Fresh Market and Process such as the farmers in Sonoma County do, as fruit that hits the ground cannot go to certain supply chains such as store shelves and some processed apple products like Fresh Apple Juice. We considered making a pick the week of August 5th, but after testing the sugar and pH of the apples in our lab, we confirmed that the apples were indeed, very underripe. Randy was very nervous to continue allowing apples to hit the ground, but since the apples were not fit for Cider Making, we delayed the Harvest decision. Herein lies one of the chief differences between growing apples for Process versus Cider Making. Harvesting Process fruit is based largely on average ripeness of the crop, and has a certain allowance for under ripe fruit. Conversely, our Ciders are highly expressive of the fruit as it is harvested, and therefore must be perfectly ripe to make the best Cider. This is reflected in how farmers will Harvest. Cider Makers prefer the fruit to be so ripe that the apples will naturally hit the ground, however, given the constraints the growers face by allowing fruit to hit the ground as well as the large increase in labor it would require to pick fruit as it is perfectly ripe, the growers tend to harvest at an average ripeness for a block. In that case we’ll randomly sample apples in a block of the orchard, test the juice from that sample, and make a harvest decision based on what we find. That harvest decision will involve harvesting all of the apples from the trees in that block based on the random sample we take. That way we, the Cider Makers, get the most ripe apples while also ensuring that minimal apples hit the ground for the Farmer. Gravensteins at Roberts Orchard Week of August 5th: Brix: 10 pH 3.2
2ND WEEK OF AUGUST 2019 After making the joint decision between Randy and myself to revisit harvesting this week, it has become clear that too much fruit is dropping off of Randy’s Grav trees. This is being further complicated by the local processor, which has decided not to take Vinegar Grade apples this year. Having a local processor that will purchase Vinegar Grade apples is important to the economics of Process Apple Growing, because no matter what a farmer does, some percentage of fruit is going to drop too far before ripeness to be used, or have some amount of worm damage that would disallow the fruit to be used for any other purpose. These apples are purchased for prices that are much lower than other grades of fruit, but it does allow for some income from the farmers. Some years as much as 25% of the harvest can go toward Vinegar production, but that will represent a much lower percentage of income. Farming apples in Sonoma County does not allow for much room for financial error, so even a small percentage of income becoming eliminated is significant for our farmers. The result this year is that the fruit is being lost or being scrounged for Applesauce production with some of the higher quality apples. Still, it is a major blow to the local Apple farmers of Sonoma County.
Understanding that this year would not be typical for Grav Harvest, we decided to harvest a bit unconventionally to get the ripest fruit while avoiding loss for Randy. To do this, we did two large sweeps of Randy’s Orchard over two weeks, picking 35 bins this week, and trying to save about 35 bins for next week. The idea is that we could be selective by block and pick only what was ripe, while giving the rest of the fruit an additional week to ripen.
Gravensteins at Roberts Orchard Week of August 12th: Brix: 12.5 pH 3.39
3RD WEEK OF AUGUST 2019 We rely on many local businesses to ensure a successful Harvest each year, and without the support of the system that those businesses help us create, making our ciders would be much more difficult. Over the last several years our Cidery’s home has been placed in several West Sonoma County towns as we have continued to grow including Graton, Sebastopol, and now Healdsburg. The orchard where it all began for us is located in Sebastopol along with the other Sonoma County Orchards that we work with, and because of this, just getting the apples harvested is the first of many steps to get fresh-pressed apple juice through our Cidery doors in Healdsburg.
Once the apples are picked into Bins, our farmers deliver the bins to our local apple press at Apple a Day Ranch in Sebastopol. Mike and his team run a U-Pick orchard for folks to come out and get the authentic apple orchard experience (I highly recommend) as well as a juice company that sells bottled fresh-pressed apple juice that is sold at accounts throughout Northern California. Apple a Day also serves as the apple press for local cider producers in Sonoma County and beyond, and includes ourselves at Golden State Cider. Throughout Harvest we send apples to Mike weekly for his team to press for us. Once the apples are pressed into juice, the juice is pumped into a locally-operated tanker truck and delivered to our Cidery in Healdsburg.
This week we received the juice from 35 bins of Gravenstein from Randy, a nice blend of yellow and red Gravs. The juice came in at 12.5 brix and 3.39 pH. This results in juice that is a bit thinner (lower sugar, higher acid) and greener (underripe) than our goal, but through fermentation and cellaring we expect to help express the rich characteristics of the Gravenstein. We can also depend on our second harvest of Gravs coming in this week, which did in fact ripen a bit more with the extra week on the trees. That will help the overall body and structure of the juice and resulting cider. The Gravenstein juice was inoculated with yeast, and now the official Cider Making begins!
Gravensteins at Roberts Orchard Week of August 19th: Brix: 13.0 pH 3.50
4TH WEEK OF AUGUST 2019 Save the Gravenstein is not only the name of our Gravenstein varietal cider, but it is also an early mantra borrowed from Russian River Slow Foods, which defined the foundation of our company and our initial purpose. Save the Gravenstein is still our call to action in support of local apple farmers, and how we most directly “Grow Apples Through Cider” in our backyard of Sonoma County. At the height of the apple boom in West Sonoma County in the 1950s, there were more than 15,000 acres of apples planted, several apple processing plants, with apples being the source of many, if not most, jobs in our area. Today there are less than 1,000 acres of apple trees left in Sonoma County, and now more than ever, we must work to Grow Apples Through Cider, so that we can Save the Gravenstein.
We have not made Cider in such a way that additional juice was added to an already ongoing fermentation, but that is what we have opted to do for this year’s Save the Gravenstein. While it is early on, the already-fermenting Gravenstein juice picked on August 12th is already starting to show the characteristic bright, crisp profile Save the Gravenstein has come to take on every year. The second lot of Gravenstein juice was picked the week of the 19th, was slightly higher in sugar and lower in acidity, which I think will turn out beautifully.
Elsewhere in the orchards we are looking for some fruit to press as a second element to the Save the Gravenstein. While the Gravenstein provides a great crisp acidity to a finished cider, it can usually benefit from the addition of a second or third apple variety in the blend that will provide more body and mouthfeel. Our options are relatively limited this early in the season, because while the Gravensteins were picked because they were dropping, the rest of the fruit is not following that trend, and we’re left with a bit of a gap. Stan and Randy both say they have never had anything like this happen, where there is such a gap between Harvests. The fruit available right now are Golden Supremes and some VERY early Jonathans amongst some other odds and ends. None are quite what we are looking for, so we will continue to wait. There is something so recognizable about the Gravenstein apples that is further pronounced in our dry-farmed Goldridge Loam; it always reminds me of biting into a fresh apple. That feeling has always translated to the finished cider, and to me, while I did not grow up in Sonoma County, it always reminds me to walking through an apple orchard at peak harvest, and my hope is that the feeling translates to those who grew up in Sonoma County frolicking through Gravenstein Orchards.
1ST WEEK OF SEPTEMBER 2019 Grav ferment is going strong, without the centrifuge we are starting to explore some options as to how we will drop some solids without taking a huge loss. The idea was to bentonite fine the lot, cold crash, and rack into a new tank. There we did some oxygen work on the lees to impart some additional body. I think it is successful, but every year we work with Gravs I am reminded that they are not a great cidermaking apple. This supports the need for a second element to be added to the blend so we can get some more body and complexity. I don’t intend to use chips or any other elements.
In the orchard there is little to nothing happening. The Gravs came off, but Jonathans are still a long way off. Golden Supremes are being harvested right now, but that doesn’t seem like the right apple to use for this blend. We need something with more skin that can give a bit of mouthfeel and body. Jonathan will be the right choice. Unfortunately, we will have to keep playing the waiting game until the apples are ready. Elsewhere in the state Stuart is itching to pick his Kings and Orange Pippins. I’m definitely worried that they are too green after the RIG issues last year where they were picked about 3 weeks too early. Will try to get him to hold off another week or two at least, but they will likely need to sweat. Unfortunately he does not have a refractometer and only picks by taste.
2ND WEEK OF SEPTEMBER 2019 Grav ferment is aging nicely on the lees. It is picking up some cool aged notes, which will help the final product greatly. Still not much happening in the orchard. There have been a few really hot days, so we are seeing some significant drop, but the fruit is still not ready. It would be a great year for vinegar apples if Manzana was taking them, since there is a lot of drop fruit that is not ripe enough to go to sauce or juice or cider. Went out to Mill Station to taste some Golden Supremes, and they are definitely not the apple for this blend, we will wait a week or two more for Jonathan. The Gravensteins that will be used for the addback juice are currently in cold storage, and will be pressed next week. They are horrible storage apples, and will definitely not make it past that point. I tasted them today, and they were already just cold, sweet mush. I think it will be a good balance for the cider. Using the Grav juice really helps impart the true Gravenstein experience to the cider.
Elsewhere in the state, Stuart picked his Kings and Orange Pippins and delivered them to Randy. I was able to taste them, and they were definitely a little green, not as bad as the RIG from last year, but not quite where they need to be. We will sweat them for the week and press them next week. The orange pippins have some really cool flavors, and great acid structure, and the Kings are relatively great. They are further along in maturity than the pippins. We will see how they are next week.
3RD WEEK OF SEPTEMBER 2019
Grav ferment was racked off the lees. We did a little 2 lb/1000 add of bentonite to get some settling since we are still without the centrifuge and touched up sulfites. Overall it is really beautiful, but a bit thin and delicate. Was considering bringing in the Jonathan to round out the Grav blend, but decided to wait until next week. Mikey Meyers says that some folks are already pressing Jons, but I want to wait another week.
We brought in Stuarts King/Orange Pip blend today at 13.1 brix and 3.36 pH. A little green, but the flavors are really cool, and I think it will translate well to a good cider. If I could have it my way I’d have it sit on the tree another week or two. We also brought in the back sweetening juice for STG. It is mostly Gravs, with some other cool, complex golden varieties froms Stan. We only need about 300 gallons, but I brought in close to 1000 gallons. Whatever is remaining will become a field blend that could go into Fool’s Gold or become part the TRO series. I can feel that everything is starting to come at once, and it will put a lot of pressure on our cellar. We are still getting some really hot days, and a lot of fruit is falling. I was out at Stan’s this week, and saw a bunch of Kingston Black and some other cool cider varietals on the ground or rotting. It’s hard to get all of the timing right, but always sad when we don’t.
4TH WEEK OF SEPTEMBER 2019 Grav is in bed, just awaiting the final touches before packaging. I think it’s going to end up great. We had to pull some of the Mendo blend out of the tank so it wouldn’t overflow, but the glycol went down over the weekend and the temp. Spiked. It’s going to take some repairing now: lot’s of oxygen and superfood. The backsweetened juice is crossflowed, and now we just have to keep it stable until blending.
We brought in a single-varietal lot of Jonathan this week. 5 bins came from Randy’s and 15 came from Sanders Ranch via Mikey Meyers. It’s a really awesome juice came in at 13.4 brix and 3.75 pH. Really cool apple skin flavors, no acid, which will take a bit of work in the cellar. That was actually really surprising as there is still a lot of Jonathan life left out there, so to bring in pH that high is a bit abnormal.
Elsewhere in the orchard, Goldens are starting to come in, but it is definitely still very slow out there.
1ST WEEK OF OCTOBER 2019
We were able to revive the Mendo blend, had to work on it throughout the weekend, but it’s finally back in a happy place. The Jonathan is awesome, still very sweet, but trending in all of the right ways. We will definitely pull off a set of barrels for SV through the taproom.
We were out in the field for a team day today. Fun to spend time in the cider orchard. We picked what good Kingston Blacks were there, but most had rotted or were mush on the trees. The belle de boskoop and Mutsu were awesome, as were the Ashmead’s Kernel and Wickson’s. We picked a bin from the orchard as a team which will go into our next blend.
Up in Mendocino, Stuart is picking RIGs which will come down to us later this week for pressing next week. He was very resistant to holding onto them for so long, but we discussed the importance of letting the fruit hand for the cider and he gets it now. Those apples will live in cold storage until then, which should help keep them intact.
Mendo is drying out nicely, and will be barreled down this week to begin its long slumber until its release in 2020. Jonathan is rolling very slowly, but has really cool, apple skin compexities that will help fill out the STG nicely, and hopefully translate well to a single varietal out of the tap room. The gravenstein dry lot is excellent as well. We put the trials together for STG, We are utilizing a bit of leftover juice from last year to add some deeper complexity, but for the most part it is about 85% Gravenstein. It is very different than last year, definitely less complex, which I believe comes from the early pick date, but it still has the signature Grav aroma and crispness. It is a little jucier as well despite coming in a touch drier than last year.
Rhode Island Greenings pressed this week at 14.03 brix and 3.61 pH, it is absolutely perfect. We brought in 24 bins, which ended up being a TON of juice because they are Manzana bins, so we have a three totes coming in as well, which we will inoculate with three different yeasts. This juice has some great green floral notes, and something about this juice also screams marine air, and that feeling ends up translating very nicely to the final cider.
We also brought in a mostly Golden skinned blend that will be destined for Fool’s Gold and a field blend out of the tap room. That came in at 14.5 brix and 3.9 pH! The Golden Delicious are from Randy’s Ranch, and stan contributed a large variety of other apples that will add some cool complexity and texture to the cider. The juice had a slight bacterial hint, so we’re hoping that fades with inoculation. Elsewhere, Newtown Pippins are getting picked in Watsonville, but we wait until November 1st to bring that fruit in, and it will be a blend of early harvest and late harvest fruit. Mendocino is done for the year. Apple Hill has been difficult, they won’t commit to any volume of Arkansas Blacks so we’re just playing that by ear week to week.
2ND WEEK OF OCTOBER 2019
Apple a Day’s press is down. We have a blend of late harvest Jonathan, Golden Delicious, and some other varieties from Stan that will sweat an additional week before pressing. In house we are watching the Mendocino and SCFB start slowly taking off. The Rhode Island Greening is very lovely, the FB is a little funky, but had good room to clean up. STG is canning this week.
I spent a few hours with the Meyers on Tuesday afternoon to look at the rest of the harvest. Arkansasw Blacks took a big drop last week, which appears to be pretty typical according to Stan and Randy. Usually there is an early drop, then they’ll hold on to the tree for another 2-3 weeks before ripeness. I asked Stan when he was thinking about picking and he said at least 2 weeks, which is what I relayed back to the Meyers boys. I have samples from a few different ranches which are below. We also took a look at Braeburns, which appear just slightly green, and Winesaps, which have awesome flavors with some of the windfalls, but are still very green on the tree. There is a lot of difference between Mill Station and Ferguson that lead to different maturing rates. Ferguson is planted pretty widely and there is a lot of sun that gets into the trees. The windfalls also see a lot of sun and mature pretty quickly, whereas Mill Station is planted pretty densely so apples don’t see as much sun, and the windfalls are more protected. That will be key to deciding what to pick and when.
Arkansas Black: Mill Station Ranch
Starch: No, seeds are brown
Pick: I’d say two weeks, maybe more
Arkansas Black: Ferguson
Starch: No, seeds are brown
Pick: Definitely two weeks unless stuff really starts falling
Braeburn: Mill Station
Stach: No, seeds are brown
Pick: mid/end of next week
Starch: No, seeds are brown
Pick: Next week
It is interesting working with Meyers, as they strip trees, so you have to ask them to wait on picking and take the drop loss so that the average ripeness on the tree is close to what you want to bring in. We had some great discussions around this, and I think they could be a great ally moving forward. They have large access to quality fruit, and are very reasonable on price, and can service the account pretty well also. They are really interested in further integrating with GSC, either through pressing or cold storage or other, which seems highly valuable. They also are interested in replanting some parts of their orchard and are asking for input, which I see as another vote of confidence.
3RD WEEK OF OCTOBER 2019
This week we brought in a few leftover bins of Goldens from Randy, some mixed varieties from Stan, and the remaining bins as Jonathans from Meyers Farming. Brix came in at 15.19, which is pretty powerful, but definitely indicative of the end of the season for some of these varieties. This blend will comprise part of Fool’s Gold, with the remaining becoming part of a Field Blend for 2019. RIG is fermenting well in tank with Vintage White. We have three totes going with different yeasts. The VW tote received an extra add of nutrient over the weekend, and has remained nice and clean. The EC-1118 was doing really well until the last brix or so, and is now funking out a little. Nothing we can’t make better still, but worth noting. The Nouveaux sucks at this point, and I recall it not working great last year either. VW was the star of the tote trials from last year, which is why we chose it for the main lot this year. Eventually these will end up in barrels mid next week. 101019SCFB is also very interesting as it nears dryness, and will be a critical component to Fool’s Gold this year. It’s destiny post fermentation is totes, where it will live until Fool’s Gold blending.
Out in the orchards, we’re looking to pick the Winesaps at Ferguson Rd. tomorrow, and top up that load with Braeburns and early Ark. Blacks. All via Meyers. Should be a really really cool blend of apples. Randy is trying hard to push Goldens onto me, but we really don’t need any more for the year. Stan is the same with Goldens, Jonathan, and Mutsus, but I just don’t think we’ll need those at this point. The Jons seemed like they were going to be short-lived at first, but they seems to be available for a long time. The later season are also WAY more cool and complex and sweet than the fruit we got earlier in the season. Would be worth waiting later next year. Probably take less Golden next year as well…
4TH WEEK OF OCTOBER 2019
On Friday afternoon we decided to close the cidery midway through the evening shift due to smoke at the cidery. On Saturday morning it was announced that Healdsburg was under mandatory evacuation notices due to the threatening Kincade Fire. A small team of us went up to shutdown critical processes and secure the building. At 2pm the city turned off all power to the city of Healdsburg, so unfortunately all of our fermenting tanks are no longer temperature controlled. 101019SCFB and 101019MCRIG were both about dry, so those should be safe, but 102219SCFB was just starting to ferment, and will likely ferment without temperature control. Additionally, 091919SCGRAV was fermenting very strongly in 2 totes. I gave a small nutrient add to that ferment to keep it going without the maintenance.
Out in the orchards, the picking crews are facing many of the same challenges. They are not able to pick because of the smoke denisty and air quality. Mikey Meyers says it’s not a huge issue for our next run as that fruit hasn’t really dropped too significantly. We are looking at getting all of the Winesaps at Ferguson Rd., then topping the lot up with whatever is available between Braeburns and Arkansas Blacks. We will use some of the Winesaps for Single Varietal through the taproom, and judging on the flavor from the last time we were in the orchard, it should translate to a really great cider. We were scheduled to take our load of Newtown Pippin on Friday this week, but that is now being pushed a few weeks. Jake has CA controlled storage, so it really doesn’t affect us outside of the fact that I really wanted fresh pick fruit for the cider this year. That has been moved to the end of the month to accommodate the damage control we will need to do once we get back to Healdsburg. We have decided to try something a little different this year, and rather than taking all late season apples, he has been saving some of the early season apples so that we can lighten the body, and hopefully the ABV on the cider.
1ST WEEK OF NOVEMBER 2019
Coming in after the fires we did had some stock to take of the current situation. The two lots that were close to dry didn’t seem to have any issues, and in fact even 101019SCFB was tasting great. I don’t think the lack of temperature control had as great of an effect on these small under-pitched lots as we expected. Because it as so dry, it was getting very cold at night, and my thinking is that because we had sealed the building from smoke, it kept the temperature very cool, which saved these ferments. The larger core ferments will take more work. Those tanks are more square and therefore more prone to temperature stratification, so there is work to do there. The 091919SCGRAV lot which was fermenting rigorously in totes when I left Saturday (and tasting great) appears to have fermented pretty warm. That tends to happen in those thin walled totes when we can’t get in to mix them daily.
With the new centrifuge coming online we were able to get back into the swing of making a separation pass, then proceeding to barrel down. We did some clarifying on 102219SCFB (the golden/jonathan blend), and it has cleaned up very nicely. Still tons of fresh fruit, but that big mouthfeel and complexity from the soil is already starting to come through. That blend went to totes, as it will be part of Fool’s Gold most likely, and doesn’t have much body to gain in barrels. The 101019MCRIG was separated then put into barrels. It is tasting really great so far. The Rhode Islands from Stuart always seem to have this slightly briney marine air influence, which is just supported perfectly by the fruit. It will begin it’s long 6+ month slumber before being incorporated into the CA Farms Blend for this year. We did a quick rack and return on the earlier Mendocino County blend as well as the Jonathan. Both are tasting real great, and are moving into longer term storage where we will only really access them every couple of months. Really looking forward to seeing the Jonathan come out of barrels and into kegs.
This week we brought in a blend from Ferguson and Mill Station Ranch that was 30% Winesap, 30% Arkansas Black, and 30% Braeburn, and it has great complexity at the juice stage, and will undoubtedly become a great blending element for Elder Tree. Gotta love the Ark Blacks. We were also able to pull 4 bins into a tote for a SV Winesap, and it will be killer. Those Winesaps from Ferguson are incredible!
Harvest is really starting to feel like it’s coming to an end. Elsewhere in the orchards there are still a lot of Golden Delicious and Jonathans available, but I can already feel the Rome Beauties being pushed on us. In terms of capacity and budget we’re just about where we’ll need to be after we take all of the Arkansas Blacks from Meyers in the next few weeks. Mikey tells me he’s getting calls from cider makers all over the county for them, and feels bad about not sharing. I don’t care much to share them though, they are in important apple to our Harvest program, and we will plan to pretty much take all we can get from them.
As an additional note of excitement, through the CAC I was able to connect with Byron at Cuyama Orchards in Ventura County. Byron grows a ton of really cool, organic heirloom varieties, in an extremely unique environment. Specifically he grows an older Etter variety called Crimson Gold, which is a cross between a Wickson an a few other varieties, but at its core is a cross between a crab and a domesticated apple. It is said to have a lot of cool complexity and a great tart bite (probably from the Wickson). Byron grows about 1000 bins of them on his property, and we’re going to be able to make a SV Crimson Gold from him this year, which is extremely exciting to round out the CA Farm Series this year. That will come to us sometime in December, and should be a cool discovery process.
2ND WEEK OF NOVEMBER 2019
We had a bit of a quiet week here. The Arkansas Blacks were picked this past weekend, and were ready to go, but we had some logistics problems with the tankers, so we’ve opted to push that pressing back a week and hold the apples in cold storage. Mike was able to get 19 bins of Arkansas Blacks, which is not too bad. We were hoping for closer to 20 tons, but we’re closer to 12 on the year. That’s kind of how it goes with Ark Blacks, they are alternate bearing, and even with an on year, you just never know what you’re going to get. I’m really hoping to be able to save some of this cider for next’s year Elder Tree as well. But we are most definitely putting together a SV for the taproom. The apples are tasting great, and I’m excited to have the exclusive opportunity from Mikey to get to use these apples. We are going to take a few bins from Stan just to round out the lot. It’s too small to send to the press, so we will get a few mixed bins from Stan in there as well. But I still feel confident in saying that it is a SV. The Ark Black will be present!
This week we finally got our lot of Newtown Pippins from Jake in Watsonville. It ended up being about 25 tons, which is a very big lot for Jake. I told him on the outset of the season that it was important to me to try a few different things to get the sugar down naturally, so that we could lighten up the body and the ABV of the cider, and make it more approachable for more people. The ultimate solution was to take about half of the lot from the first part of the harvest (stored in his CA storage) and take the other half as fresh from the orchard (or nearly). The idea was that the early harvest should be a bit lower in sugar, and a bit peppier with acid, and the late harvest would provide the oomf. When we received the juice on Friday, I was stoked to find that we had done just that! The juice came in at about 13.2 brix and 3.63 pH. It is perfect.. 13.2 brix should be about 7.3 ABV, which when blended with some of the other vintages for the final blend should get us in a sweet spot of 7.5%-ish, which will be a bigtime improvement from the 7.9%+ it has been in the past. That is getting pitched with VW, and should have a beautiful, delicate ferment.
Otherwise in the cellar, we spun the 091919SCGRAV from the totes, and getting the solids out of there really made the difference. That signature fresh juiciness of the Grav is coming through, and I’m excited for that taproom only release. The SV-Winesap took off with a native ferment, but we will sprinkle some VW over the top to give it a little movement and consistency. The main lot that is the blend will get EC, and that should be a great drying strain for the blend. Talking with Stan and the guys, it’s almost the end. Everything is winding down, and you can feel that the last push is coming. But the farmers look tired. It’s been a long stressful year for them, and it’s definitely feeling like they just want it to be over. There are some fun late season varieties, but for the most part it’s just Romes, Fujis and Pink Ladies, and I just don’t think it’s worth the money to bring those in this year. We have the Arkansas Black lot coming in next week, then the Cuyama lot, and that’s going to do it for us.
3RD WEEK OF NOVEMBER 2019
In the cellar, the Winesap SV is starting to move and show some true color. It's extremely zesty and fresh, almost like tart cherries but as an apple. Love the way it is trending. The main lot that came off of (110819SCFB) is also starting to show some great body and complexity as the sugary sweetness starts to fade. It will be a great blend for Elder Tree 2019. The Newtown Pippin is definitely lighter bodied as we’re starting to watch the sugar drop. Right now it’s a little lighter than I would normally like, but I am hoping to work the lees with oxygen pretty hard to give it that character body that it needs. I think we can get that done. It is fun to watch the barrels pile up. We have over 150 now, which is crazy considering that when I started I had 2. John does a great job running those, and teaching the guys, he has a great eye for the barreling process, and I know I can trust him to carry out the vision. It’s very satisfying to see a process coming together and take form.
The Arkansas Black blend came in this week as well, and is about a great as I expected. Super proud to have almost all of the fruit available in the county, and to share the story with our drinkers. Alll of the local cideries were trying to get their hands on these apples, so it is very satisfying to have the exclusivity. The sugar came in at 14.8, which is a great number for Arkansas Black. The extra complexity that they afford should balance the heightened ABV. This will wrap us up for Sonoma County fruit for the year. Overall the trend for the year was greater quantity of fewer varieties for the Harvest Series, while being much more involved in the picking process. This year I was able to designate when I wanted all of the late harvest fruit picked, which allowed me to dial in sugar and acidity to a much greater degree than before. The idea is that the more involved we are on the harvest date, the fewer adjustments we would need to make in the cellar, and the more whole the end cider would be. The farmers all seem happy to work with us this year. Overall, we’re pretty easy to work with, and we have a good system that allows us to work into their regular work days for process picking, rather than totally derailing their days like some of the other small cideries.
4TH WEEK OF NOVEMBER 2019
In the cellar the SV-Winesap is taking on a bit of a watermelon characteristic, which is strange yet interesting. The acidity is extremely low, and will likely need some adjustment to bring it all together. Winesaps have a very characteristically sweet melon-y profile, and I feel like that absolutely comes through on this one. 110819 is about to go dry, and is a very well balanced blend of some cool american heirloom varieties. The Arkansas Black give big body and tannin, while the Braeburns and Winesaps offer up a more juicy, tangy freshness to the cider. It will age super well and be a great component of Elder Tree. The Arkansas Black (nearly) SV is just starting to kick off. I think this could end up being one of the best ciders we put out next year. We are trying to figure out when to get the Crimson Golds from Cuyama in. It won’t be this week with the Thanksgiving Holiday happening, but it is fairly easy to get apples from Byron. They all get picked and then stored, we are getting the #2s that can’t go to his fresh pack program. I have been asked by the Napa County Farm Bureau to talk as a part of their Continued Education program about Orchard Pests and the effect on cidermaking. A pretty cool honor, but not necessarily my forte, so I have been spending a lot of time with Stan Randy and Mike talking about pest pressures and management in Sonoma County. Super informative, but there is little to no published research, and most of the practices are handed down by the “old-timers” as they say.
1ST WEEK OF DECEMBER
In the cellar, SV-Winesap is winding down, it will end up being a really unique cider, but will take a long rest in barrel prior to being released to help it mellow out. 110819 is moving to barrel shortly as well. Elder Tree Blending isn’t until May or June, so it will also see about 6 months of time in barrel. It could be drank fresh, but will certainly gain complexity with the added aging time. Arkansas Black SV is continuing to trend in the right direction, ticking away a few points per day on its journey to dryness. It will soon be destined for barrels as well until Elder Tree and SV- packaging
The Crimson Golds arrived today, and it is an incredibly sweet at 17+ brix. The pH is not too bad at 3.85, but what it lacks is made up with a nice tart finish to the juice. Not as much tannin as I have expected based on the parental lineage of Wickson and true crab, but complex in its own right. It will end up being super high ABV, and I can tell the mouthfeel will be velvety and viscous already. Might even drink nicely as a still cider…
With that, the journey of Harvest 2019 comes to an end. We started looking at apples the last week of July, the first lot came in the week of August 12th, and almost four months later we are finished with the last juice coming in. It’s time to make cider!