Virginia cideries tap into demand for craft cider

Virginia cideries tap into demand for craft cider
Hard cider isn’t new to Virginia. In fact, Americans have been quaffing the fermented apple juice since Colonial times. 

After a decline in popularity, the craft of cidermaking is experiencing a revival. A decade ago, there was one hard cidery in the state. Today, more than 20 dot the map. 

Albemarle CiderWorks, one of the pioneers in the Virginia cider industry, has turned vintage apple cultivation into a passion for crafting classic dry American cider. 

“We started by planting 10 apple trees as a hobby and ended up with 250 varieties,” said Charlotte Shelton, owner of the family-operated cidery. She said the most ambitious thing the family did with the apples was to start making cider.

“We make cider out of nothing but apples, and the quality depends on the quality of the apples. Once we press the juice, the process is exactly the same as making wine.”

Despite the near disappearance of traditional cider apples, CiderWorks has been instrumental in bringing them back. The farm now grows American cider apples like Harrison and Hewes Crab in its Albemarle County orchard.

“Different apples produce juices with unique levels of acidity, sugar and tannin,” ciderist Chuck Shelton explained. “I’m going to make whatever the apple gives me.”

According to the Cider Market Trends Report for 2017, regional and local cider brands, rather than national ones, are driving the increase in sales of hard cider nationwide. In 2016, sales of Virginia cider increased by 52 percent, to more than 416,000 cases.

At Showalter’s Orchard, the home of Old Hill Hard Cider, the Showalter family has been growing apples for more than 50 years. Six years ago they began making hard cider.

The Showalters see their Rockingham County pick-your-own orchard and cidery as a direct link to visitors interested in the local food and farm-to-table movements.

“The tradition of our farm has been to remain relevant and sustainable by adding value to the crops that we grow. It was a natural progression to add hard cider production,” noted Shannon Showalter. 

Showalter said he is inspired by choosing blends of apples and the right yeasts for his ciders. He also incorporates nontraditional ingredients like hops, strawberries and peaches from the farm into seasonal selections.
Now, he and his wife, Sarah, will expand their operation thanks to a $50,000 grant received this year from the Virginia Governor's Agriculture and Forestry Industries Development Fund and Rockingham County.

“The grant will allow us to double our production volume and construct a retail space with a larger tasting room and sales area. It will help us take advantage of the growth in the state’s agritourism and craft beverage industries,” Sarah explained.

Cider Week in November

Virginia was the first state to have an official Cider Week proclaimed by its governor. This year’s celebration will be Nov. 9-18.

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