Thomas Jefferson must be smiling in his grave right about now. The resurgence of viticulture, agriculture, and hard cider surrounding his homeplace and spanning the breadth of the state is astounding. Virginia has not seen this much activity and excitement about fruit, whether it’s fermenting or not, since the early 1800s. Even during this technological age, we are reverting back to our historical roots. And those roots lead to the base of an apple tree.
Jefferson’s clairvoyant vision of viticulture and agriculture is unrivaled, and the resurgence of all of these components is especially apparent near Charlottesville. Heirloom apple varieties are currently grown at multiple orchards, both for eating and drinking, but lately it has been more frequently for the latter. Hard cider has regained popularity, especially the drier styles that are reminiscent of Champagne. Certain varietals of apples are grown to attain specific flavors, such as Hewe’s Crabapple, also known as Jefferson’s “table drink” because of the crisp dry flavors that accompany many foods.
Like wine, cider is a fermented fruit juice and the best fruit makes the best cider. Each year’s harvest in our unexpected climate proves new challenges, and blends are dependent on these obstacles. Cider and wine are also alike in that they are both forms of agriculture completely dependent on similar factors such as the weather, their shepherd, and the visionary at the helm of their flavor profile. Some are better for quenching thirst, and others are contemplative and complex, better suited for sipping slowly.
In Colonial America, cider was the drink of choice. John Adams attributed his health and longevity to drinking a tankard of cider before breakfast each day. As the Industrial Revolution progressed, the farms and orchards decreased, and Prohibition was the final straw. Orchards have been replanted and have gained strength ever since. Apple growth is at an all time high, thanks in part to modern “Jeffersonians” like Tom Burford, who grows more than 100 varieties at Albemarle Ciderworks (a.k.a. Vintage Virginia Apples). Burford is responsible for planting and reinvigorating numerous heirloom apple varieties that once flourished on the East Coast, like the Albemarle Pippin, Ashmead’s Kernel, Ralls, Baldwin, Winesap, and Esopus Spitzenburg, to name a few.
Another notable cidery in the area is Potter’s Craft Cider, owned and run by Tim Edmonds and Dan Potter. They make only two styles of cider, the Farmhouse Dry and the fuller-bodied Oak Barrel Reserve, but unlike most of the other cideries, Potter’s bottles its selections as well as kegs them for restaurant taps.
These, in addition to Castle Hill, Old Hill, Blue Bee (in Richmond), and Bold Rock, will be accessible during November’s Virginia Cider Week.
Celebrated during the second week of the month, the event kicks off at Feast! with a cider tasting featuring Virginia’s finest from noon-4pm on November 15.
On November 17 at Meriwether Springs Vineyard, Hill & Holler hosts a dim sum-style dinner party, with small plates passed on rolling carts so guests can sample both exquisite food and ciders simultaneously. Information and tickets can be found at hillandholler.org.
On November 20, learn to make cider at home during a free workshop at Fifth Season Gardening Co. from 6-8pm.
On November 22, celebrate the second annual “East/West Smackdown” at Albemarle Ciderworks from 6-8pm. This event involves blind tasting ciders from the East and West coasts. (It also involves cheese, which is always a bonus.)
Cider Week concludes November 23 at Castle Hill’s “Cider Fest” from 11am-5pm, featuring a plethora of cider samples and food, plus music from Love Canon.
Start doing your cider homework now before the celebration of this deliciously crisp (and historically hip) beverage commences.
Tracey Love is the event coordinator at Blenheim Vineyards, the sales and marketing associate for the Best of What’s Around farm, and proprietress of Hill & Holler.