Yesterday marked the start of a new, month-long series on #winestudio. The focus this month is Virginia Hard Cider. I’ve lived in Virginia almost all my life, and I love cider, so I’m particularly excited about this study.
And I’m not the only Virginian with a love for fermented apples.
Thomas Jefferson’s love for (and relationship with) wine is well documented. However, Thomas Jefferson was also a cider aficionado. Jefferson may have failed to successfully grow European wine grape varieties at Monticello, but he did experience great success with his apple orchard.
During the War of 1812, Jefferson was unable to import his favorite European wines (because the British Royal Navy blockaded the entire Atlantic Coast of the United States, bringing trade to a grinding halt), so he turned to cider. Jefferson made his own cider at Monticello, and served cider as his “table drink” with most meals.
Jefferson insisted on a very specific recipe of apples for his cider-making. Jefferson’s apple orchard focused on only four varieties, all cider apples — Hewes Crab, Taliaferro (which Jefferson called “the best cider apple existing”), Newtown Pippin (later called the Albemarle Pippin) and Esopus Spitzenburg. Before last night’s #winestudio, if you asked me to name apple varieties, I would have struggled to come up with anything beyond Red & Golden Delicious, Granny Smith, and maybe Gala. An important takeaway from last night: Eating apples make terrible cider, and cider apples make terrible eating. Clearly, Jefferson preferred to drink his apples!
A few weeks ago, I was browsing through a used bookstore (some people go antiquing, I go used book-storing), and I found a copy of John Hailman’s book, Thomas Jefferson on Wine. It’s a meticulously researched Jefferson history told through the lens of wine. And, bonus . . . it was five bucks!
There’s a short chapter in Hailman’s book on cider, so I went back and re-read it to help me prepare for last night’s #winestudio. We tasted three crisp, elegant ciders from Foggy Ridge Cider in Dugspur (southwestern Virginia). And I could not get over the Champagne texture of the ciders — light-bodied and lean, with layers of complexity. The versatility potential is off-the-charts!
And apparently, TJ and I are on the same cider page . . .
By 1700, cider was the most popular beverage in the United States. Our Founding Fathers loved the stuff. And William Henry Harrison won the Presidential election of 1840 by running on a “log cabin and hard cider” (appeal to the common man) platform. But by the early 20th century, cider had nearly fallen off the national radar. Why the decline? A perfect storm of reasons, really. German immigrants arrived in America with a taste for beer, along with the methods to make it quickly and efficiently. And then there was that whole Prohibition nonsense. Prohibitionists burned cider apple orchards to the ground and replanted them with sweet, eating apples. After Prohibition, it took years to convert the orchards back to cider apples.
Today, cider is experiencing a revival in the United States, and Virginia is at the center of that revival. Virginia Cider Week is November 14-23 — there are ten cideries and/or craft cider makers in Virginia — all with fun events and opportunities to learn about fermented apple juice. If you’re a cider aficionado (or just want to learn more), please join the Virginia cider conversation with #winestudio — Tuesdays in October from 9-10pm.