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Pressing Apples for Vashon Winery’s “Vintage Blend” Hard CiderNovember 11th, 2012 at Sun, 11th, 2012 at 4:11 pm by Karen Dale
I ran into Ron Irvine of Vashon Winery the other day and asked whether he was still pressing apples this season for their hard cider. “Yes—tomorrow morning!” he said and welcomed me to join him, Verne Johnson, and Tim Kehl at the winery.
Next morning, I drove up to the red barn with the “VW” letter above the door and found Ron lugging crates of apples from the back orchard. His “Golden Russet,” “King of Tompkin’s County,” “Transparent,” and “Greening” apples joined another pallet-full, 400 lbs in all, from Carolina Nurik’s orchard. From her Ron had bought some classic cider apples: red-n-green “Dabinett”, the freckled red “Yarlington Mill” and red-on-cream “Porter’s Perfection”, as well as the table apples “Liberty” and “Keepsake.”
“I used to get most of my apples from the WSU Extension research station in Mt. Vernon,” he told me. “But not this year: for the first time, we can make our cider using only Island-grown apples.”
As I mentioned in the last blog, Vashon and Washington state has more apples than anyone knows what to do with: it’s the second largest apple harvest on record for the state, only surpassed by last year’s crop. Big users like Vashon Winery and Dragon’s Head Cider have been able to buy enough of the cider apples they require from the local orchardists who’ve long nurtured rare & unusual apples—Nurik, Pacific Crest Farm (once Pete Svinth’s farm), and Doug Tuma, whose home orchard of 450 apple trees is close by.
A market for cider apples is good news for Puget Sound orchardists, for in our fungal, scab-prone climate, it’s hard to produce a crop of pretty apples. But classic cider apples such as Kingston Black or Stokes Red can look weird and taste worse: small and often oddly shaped, their high degree of acid and tannin can make your mouth pucker. But that’s just what hard cider needs to give a full-bodied, snappy quaff—in fact, a hard cider made with table apples might end up tasting insipid. Here, Ron’s apples were about equally divided between cider apples and table apples.
Tim Kehl, the winery’s marketing guy, arrived with four buckets of “Stayman Winesaps.” He dumped his apples into the kiddie bathtub filled with rinse-water, stirred them around while Ron dumped in more, then slipped the switch of the electric grinder and started lopping fruit into its entrance hopper. Red-n-yellow grindings—the apple “pomace”—starting falling into a red bucket below.
Verne, who grew in up Selah, Washington (“the apple juice capitol of the world”) and worked at Tree Top and Hi-Country as a lad, was in charge of the pressing. Theirs was no quaint wooden basket press, oh no—this 6′, red-metal painted hydraulic-powered contraption looked a lot, to me, like an over-sized flower press. On its platen Verne placed a 18″-square metal frame, draped a brown cheesecloth over it, then grabbed a bucket of pomace and upended it onto the cloth.
He folded each side over the center to make a neat envelope, lifted the metal frame up and away, topped the envelope with a second white panel and started the process all over.
Repeat repeat repeat until the press was loaded up with a dozen “cheeses” of pomace, the plates’ corrugations already pouring out juice. The run-out tube turned amber as juice started pouring from the press into the big collection barrel.
Given that every islander with an apple tree is probably asking “What AM I going to do with all these apples?” I asked Ron what’s the minimum juice one needs for cider. “About 5 gallons of juice, and you need eleven pounds of apples to press out one gallon of juice. Here, out of all this, I’ll be happy to get one barrel’s worth.” He did warn not to use windfalls: varmints can spread e-coli on browsed fruit, or the vinegar bacteria, acetobactor, can gain its first foothold on over-ripe fruit and turn your cider into vinegar.
Hard cider makes up only a “tiny percentage” of Vashon Winery’s output, but it’s dear to Ron’s heart: in the book “Tales of the Tilth,” he talks about a post-college trip to London and his first, life-changing, taste of a good English hard cider. “It became my ‘Holy Grail,’ he claimed, part of a lifelong quest to replicate that flavor in his “Centennial Cider” and his single-variety “Cox’s Orange Pippin” and “Kingston Black” bottlings.
Those single-varieties are no more: nowadays he blends juices into his “Vintage Blend” that he sells at Vashon Thriftway, Metropolitan Market, and some wineshops in Seattle.
Verne took a personal 5-gallon share of the pressing. Later, he sent me this photo of his juice fermenting away in a glass carboy. He’d introduced a commercial yeast to it, as Ron and most other cider-makers do: the wild yeasts on the apple skins are too unpredictable.
Cider fermentation can be quite violent: the CO2 literally farted out by the sugar-digesting yeasts must be released, as in this simple water-seal where the CO2 is released into a bucket of clean water. After there are fewer than 1 bubble per minute through this airlock, the primary fermentation is done, the sugars in the juice have all been converted to alcohol, and the stuff can either be drunk (whew, that’s dry!) or allowed to settle and mellow, and then bottled. Many cider-makers re-introduce a tiny amount of sugar or honey at this point to create a secondary fermentation and carbonation (or inject a squirt of CO2 to introduce a little fizz) then cap the bottle and keep them under refrigeration, or pasteurize to kill the yeasts and thus any danger of more fermentation (and exploding bottles).
Ron’s Vashon-exclusive “Vintage Blend” hard cider will be ready by Spring 2013.
Next blog: the Fruit Club’s Annual Fruit Show, with more than 100 island-grown varieties sampled!