Our Gnarly Apples
So you’re interested in knowing a bit more about our cider apples? Amazing! We are excited to share. Our orchard is located at our cidery in Prince Edward County in Canada Climate Zone 5B and is moderated by Lake Ontario. We are right across the lake from the Finger Lakes region in upstate New York. Our area has been growing apples for a long time (packing them into barrels to put on steamers across the Atlantic). The old orchards gave way to canning crops, cash crops & vineyards. The hedgerows are still dotted with wild apples and pears as a reminder of this heritage. We knew apples could grow here.
In 2017, we started by planting about 20 varieties, just to see what worked & what didn’t. We planted a wide range of European and North American cider apples on both dwarf and semi-dwarf rootstocks. Over the last few years, we have added to the orchard every Spring with a few more varieties as experiments, along with the ones we found were loving our spot. We now have over 10 acres, with the majority on smaller semi-dwarf rootstocks with a fairly broad mix of varieties, but we are narrowing down what we would plant again.
What have we discovered? We found out that Esopus Spitzenburg did not work (cedar apple rust is a problem in Eastern Ontario); while Kingston Black is unhappy on one dwarf rootstock, it is happier on another (but still drops 50% of it’s crop early); Yarlington Mill is a fireblight magnet; fermenting tannic cider is a completely different ballgame to the culinary apples, but it is SO worth it for the flavours. This flavour profile is why we moved our family across the continent and gave up our office jobs. The tannins in these apples elevate the cider to a beverage more similar to a wine
I’ve jotted down a few details on the categorization of the cider apples that we grow, in case you’re interested in knowing the differences. I’ll add to it with more pictures as our trees grow and you’ll be able to taste the difference in our cider as our orchard production increases.
High tannins; high acid.
These apples can make that elusive single varietal if the tannins are soft and the acid isn’t too high. Examples that we grow: Kingston Black, Porter’s Perfection, Harrison, Wickson. This group also includes crab apples, which can be useful in a blend to add mouthfeel and body while blending out the ‘crabby’ flavour and roaring acidity.
High tannins; low acid.
Some of these are very bitter and need ageing or blending (I’m looking at you, Bulmers Norman), where others are much softer. Examples that we grow: Dabinett, Ellis Bitter, Harry Masters Jersey, Michelin, Muscadet du Dieppe, Bulmers Norman, Binet Rouge, Brown Snout.
Low tannins, can be high or low acid.
These are all distinguished as they add (drumroll…) aromatics to a cider blend. Some can also be used as a single varietal, if fermented carefully. Examples that we grow: Golden Russet, Reinette Russet, Arkansas Black, Esopus Spitzenburg, and Cox Orange Pippin.
Low tannin, high acid. These are used to bring up acidity on a blend with bittersweet apples (see above). We only have a couple of these, since sharp apples are relatively easy to source from other local growers. Example from our orchard: Caville Blanc d’Hiver.
Ok, not an official description, but some apples are grown for other reasons, notably red-fleshed apples. We have a small block in our orchard of a few varieties & it is a way for us to make a naturally pink cider without any other fruit. They are technically a bittersharp, but we don’t blend or ferment them the same as the other bittersharp apples. Everything is reddish pink, from the bark, flowers to the fruit and juice.