On a blustery October day, I drove out to West Charleston to visit the orchard of Eden Specialty Ciders and help harvest some beautiful heirloom apples.
Immediately after I arrived, I headed out into the orchard between rows of trees heavy with ripe fruit, and I got to work at the direction of Ben Applegate, the Orchard Manager. We chatted about how he works with the land and the apple trees to create ideal conditions for a great harvest and pressing. He compared his orchard practices to creating a “healthy lifestyle” in humans—if you’re eating well, taking your vitamins and probiotics, exercising, and getting enough sleep, you’re maintaining the function of your system as a whole. It’s the same for an orchard—if you take care of the land instead of just the trees, you’re generally strengthening the whole system and subsequently benefitting the trees. As we picked apples and dropped them into our collecting buckets, Ben explained how natural sprays like neem oil and horsetail are applied to trees to help boost immune responses and nutrient uptake, how rows are staggered in planting to avoid monocropping, and how he changes and reevaluates season by season, and even day by day, to make sure he’s doing what’s best for the system of this land.
During a break from the picking, Eleanor, co-founder and co-owner of Eden Specialty Ciders, led me through the rows of trees, twisting apples from their boughs and handing them to me to taste. There were apples that filled my mouth with nothing but fruity sweetness, apples that made my lips pucker with tannic astringency, apples that had an intoxicating spiciness or a floral aroma, and those that tasted almost like they had already been fermented into cider, right off the tree. The names were just as intriguing: Dabinett, Golden Russet, Esopus Spitzenburg, Spartan, Grimes Golden, Tremlett’s Bitter, Binet Rouge. Each type of apple contributes to the final flavor of the cider—you don’t want a cider that’s nothing but sweet or too one-note, but you don’t want one that’s shockingly bitter or acidic on the palate, either.
As Eleanor and I walked, we chatted about the history of Eden. She and her husband Albert had tried ice cider, a sweet dessert-style cider made by freezing and thawing juice to draw off the water, in Montreal. They wondered, “Why isn’t that something we’re doing here?” The concept of terroir, most often applied to wines, fits so well with the focus on local food and drink in Vermont, and specifically with cider—the idea that a specific place gives so much to the products made from that place that you can taste it.
Eleanor and Albert decided to take the leap into the cider business after that taste of ice cider. The first year, they worked with a local orchard to source a variety of interesting apples, and their first harvest was pressed at Thanksgiving in 2007. The next year, they began to plant trees on their own land, which used to be a subsistence dairy farm in her family. Now, their ciders are made from combinations of apples grown on location at the Eden Ciders Orchard and those grown at partner orchards around the state, helping to support growers with another market option for the apples they produce.
If these ciders sound like something you’ve got to try, why not join us for our Eden Ciders livestream tasting class on Friday, November 20th? You’ll hear from Eleanor about the cider-making process and learn the correct way to taste a variety of ciders form the comfort of your couch! Find out more and sign up at this link—we hope to see you there!