One thing I know with certainty about apple-growing is that I have a lot to learn. So when I found out about a workshop for prospective cider apple growers in upstate New York, I convinced R to drop some frequent flyer miles so we both could attend.
Glynwood is a non-profit that works to preserve and promote small-scale and sustainable agriculture in the Hudson Valley region. As part of their ongoing Apple Project, they teamed up with some of the key east coast cidermakers to introduce table fruit growers to the opportunities in cider fruit, and to help growers network with other cidermakers. It’s an interesting alternative or add-on for growers to consider instead of competing with Washington state growers on price, or running u-pick operations or selling at farmers’ markets.
Had there been prizes, R and I would have won for distance traveled; we were definitely the outliers in terms of climate, altitude, and pest issues. But almost all the presenters had ideas that we could relate to our situation, and it was at times an overload of useful information. I haven’t taken notes like that since college.
And then there were the ciders. Four presenters (Steve Wood, Farnum Hill Ciders; Diane Flynt, Foggy Ridge Cider; Autumn Stoscheck, Eve’s Cidery; and Joel Elder, Tuthilltown Spirits) led the group through a formal tasting of three ciders and two vodkas made from distilled apple cider. While I have done a reasonable amount of winery visits in my youth, this was my first tasting with cidermasters. There’s no better way to learn about the fermenting crafts than by hearing the brewers or vintners talk about what they were trying to get into the bottle while tasting it yourself. There is so much new to learn about yeast selection, varietal blends, BRIX and carbonation methods.
After the talks and panels, Glynwood hosted a reception, and talk about cider. Just about everyone who was already making cider contributed a bottle or two of their best stuff. In talking with the cidermakers, we figured than almost none of it is making it more than 100 miles from the ciderhouse to point of sale; certainly none to Utah. That is a terrible shame, because we sampled some prime cider examples.
Glynwood is also a working farm with a huge CSA program, a collection of restored farmhouses and barns, goatherds and chickens being pastured in between orchards. We were lucky enough to stay in one of the farmhouses. It was like waking up on a movie set, with cows lowing outside the window. They brought in a chef to prepare the conference meals from the farm produce and other locally raised products, like some of the best pork sausage ever.
I didn’t get to find out about one project they are working on, a mobile meat processing unit to bring USDA-approved facilities within the economic reach of small-scale farmers. We did see goats working as weeders, another area of research at the farm.
It’s a long way from central Utah to the Hudson Valley, so was it useful? We came back inspired and determined and with a to-do list a mile long. I’m planning another tree order for next spring of mostly new varieties. We gained an appreciation for how much work we have ahead, and a bit of relief in that none of the decisions we have made so far are ruinously bad. In fact, the hardest choices we’ve made, about spacing and rootstock, were the very areas where there was the most disagreement among the speakers. The expert opinion distilled down to “do what is best for your site,” a refreshing commonsense attitude that trumped any idea of telling people exactly what to do.
Best of all, it was a fantastic introduction to the heart of the American cider-making community, eastern branch. R kept commenting on how gracious and open everyone was with sharing their ideas and encouragement, so refreshing compared to some of the science conferences he attends.
Steve Wood said the one thing that keeps resonating for both of us. He said we can debate all day about which varieties, which rootstocks, whether to trellis, but ultimately, the most important thing is to “get the trees in the ground.” At least we got that right.