Our Cider Story
I came to Vashon Winery in about 1988, a couple of years after they had started up. They being Willie and Karen; wonderful folks. I owned Pike and Western Wine Shop in the Pike Place Market and I was pioneering making cider from European apples. Somehow I learned that WSU-Mt. Vernon Research Center had a collection of apples specifically chosen for cider.
At the time, Dr. Bob Norton was the center’s Superintendent and had over the previous decade started collecting and growing cider apple trees. Dr. Norton had been encouraged by an Economics professor at the UW, whose name escapes me.
I had already been experimenting with heirloom island apples and kept finding that these apples produced wonderful fresh apple juice but that when they were fermented into cider they were insipid; in general tart and without much flavor.
I think I learned about Dr. Norton’s experimental apple orchard from Dr. Jeff Phillips of Bainbridge Island. Jeff had been making cider from the orchard, and additionally, planted his own orchard on Bainbridge Island. I started picking apples up at the research station, and picking apples at Jeff’s. My first commercial cider was produced in about 1988 or 1989. I produced a Centennial Cider, a blended cider of about ten or twelve English and French cider apples. I called it Centennial Cider because it was our state’s Centennial that year, but also supposedly the first apple tree in Washington was planted that year which I now know is not true. Apples were planted at Fort Vancouver in about 1825.
So, for many years I would be the only person picking apples up at the research station. I’d load my old Volvo station wagon and drive back to Vashon Island, likely just a bit high from the pherones floating in the car.
I would then crush and press the apples and ferment under Willie and Karen’s license. But I never made much.
Initially I was going to produce a line of varietal ciders, much like varietal wines but instead of Cabernet and Chardonnay I was going to have ciders like Kingston Black, Yarlington Mill, Harry’s Masters Jersey, Dabinett, and Brown’s Snout. Exciting names but I could never get enough of the apples.
Fast-forward to 2012. I have given up on the idea of varietal ciders and instead produce a blend of apples; mostly cider apples but more and more with heirloom apples. 2012 was the first year in about 25 years that I did not get cider apples from Mt. Vernon. Guess what? Cider is the cat’s meow now and there weren’t any for me last year. And probably not this year either.
But I’ve got Carolina Nuric. She supplies me with about a third of my apples, mostly cider apples: wonderful (and precious) bittersharps, bittersweets, sharps and acids; apples from each of the four categories used to classify cider apples. The most important quality is the tannins in the cider apples as it is the tannins that can withstand the rigors of fermentation, and allows you to avoid the thin insipid character.
CIDER TASTING NOTES
Woozy Deer Cider
A new label, but an older cider. This is a cider that I made back in 1997 from the Cox’s Orange Pippin apple grown near Mt. Vernon. It was named after a moose in Sweden that got stuck up in a tree after eating too many fermented apples on the ground. The label features a great drawing of the moose in the tree by Wendra Lynne. This cider is 16 years old and it has become smooth and distinctive.
Serve with mussels, clams, pork or light cheddar-type cheeses.
Click to Watch How We Make Cider
Irvine’s Vintage Cider, Vintage Blend
This is a blend of European cider apples made from a variety of sources. It is crushed and pressed at the winery using a cheese press, then fermented to dryness, settled, then racked into a stainless steel barrel where it sits for a year aging. It is then racked again, sugar and yeast are added, then the cider is put into 500ml bottles and capped with a wired porcelain cap.
It is dry and creamy and not too unlike a good champagne (definitely a small c).