As it happens, some of the most noteworthy cider in the United States comes from its greatest wine regions.
“Not every plot of land in a famous wine-growing appellation is perfectly suited to grapes,” says Dustin Wilson, master sommelier and co-founder of Verve Wine. “Often, you’ll see other types of plants in areas that might not be as well-suited for quality grape growing.”
Producers in respected wine regions understand how climate or soil can impact acid, sugar or tannins in wine. That background makes it easier to learn differences in the growth of various apple varieties.
“Making cider in a wine region supports [the same] philosophy: There is a local appreciation of terroir and fruit,” says Michelle McGrath, executive director of the United States Association of Cider Makers. “That understanding of [a winemaker’s] process is important to the orchard-based cider maker.”
McGrath also says that heritage cider makers thrive in wine regions, as local consumers appreciate such artisanal nuances. Like-minded farmers also amount to a support network. “Whether you need to borrow a tractor, troubleshoot a fermentation flow or share a booth at a festival, winemakers and heritage cider makers have much to offer each other.”
Here are five cider makers from the nation’s greatest wine regions.
Tilted Shed Ciderworks, Windsor, CA
With its moderately warm temperatures, Sonoma produces apples with low acid and high levels of sugar. At Tilted Shed, Ellen Cavalli and Scott Heath grow about 130 varieties for a wide range of heritage ciders that often feature unique notes of orchard floor, citrus fruit or even barnyard funk. “[They] believe the same terroir that creates incredible grapes for world-famous wines is also a unique terroir in which to grow phenomenal cider apples for heritage cider,” says Annie Bystryn, founder/president of online retailer Cider in Love.
South Hill Cider, Ithaca, NY
The climate and unique soils of the Finger Lakes region of upstate New York are perfect for growing cider apples, says Steve Selin, owner of South Hill Cider. Cooler nights help the apples retain acid and sugar created during long summer days, while the shale and limestone soils are rich in minerals. According to Jenn Smith, executive director of the New York Cider Association, Selin’s cider reflects the unique terroir by using “thoughtfully grown, bittersharp and bittersweet fruit,” as well as handpicked apples from feral and forgotten orchards.
E.Z. Orchards, Salem, OR
The ancient seabed known as the Willamette Valley has become synonymous with world-class Pinot Noir, but Salem’s E.Z. Orchards has farmed Roman Beauty apples in the center of the region since the 1920s. In 2000, proprietor Kevin Zielinski and his family planted French, English and heritage American apple varieties. Their fruit produces nuanced, sophisticated French-style cidre as well as American cider. “Like a wine made with great grapes, his products are worth every penny,” says McGrath.
Liberty Ciderworks, Spokane, WA
Spokane’s Liberty Ciderworks is located just outside of the Columbia Valley American Viticultural Area (AVA), home to 99% of Washington State’s wine grapes. It’s the largest apple-growing region in North America. Liberty Ciderworks pays homage to European-style cidermaking to showcase Washington’s unique crop. Its Heirloom Series highlights varieties that thrive in the region like Gravenstein, Winesap, McIntosh and Jonathan. “[Liberty views] crafting cider as a form of art, expressing apples, yeasts, topography and climate,” says Bystryn.
Castle Hill Cider, Keswick, VA
The Castle Hill estate was built on 15,000 acres in 1764, just 15 miles outside downtown Charlottesville. Today, the remaining 600 acres rests inside the Monticello AVA, the birthplace of American wine. Castle Hill began cider production in 2010 with a blend of modern and traditional methods like fermenting in stainless steel tanks and burying juice in terracotta clay vessels imported from the republic of Georgia. “Visiting Castle Hill was one of the loveliest tasting room experiences I’ve ever had,” says McGrath.