Good Fruit Grower

February 2015

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14 FEBRUARY 1, 2015 Good Fruit Grower Good times for HARD CIDER Horticulture Explosive growth has captured interest, but there's little sense of direction. by Richard Lehnert CIDER MAKERS UNITE A small group of Michigan hard cider makers has started the Michigan Cider Association. "The bylaws were signed during Expo," said Mike Beck, owner of Uncle John's Fruit House Winery & Distillery in St. Johns, Michigan. Beck is president of the United States Association of Cider Makers and treasurer of the Great Lakes Cider & Perry Association. The goal of the new association is specifically to advance and promote the Michigan hard cider industry, while others promote the national and regional cause, he said. Michigan hard cider annual production has grown from 50,000 gallons ten years ago to 750,000 gallons now. That's according to Paul Vander Heide, president of the new group. He is the owner of Vander Mill Cider and Winery near Spring Lake, which produces nearly 100,000 cases a year. "We're on a really fast horse," Vander Heide said during the Great Lakes Fruit, Vegetable, and Farm Market Expo in Grand Rapids. "We're gathering members now and expect a fairly good buy-in," Beck said. Others involved in forming the new group are Nikki Rothwell and Dan Young at Tandem Ciders in Suttons Bay, Andy Sietsema of Sietsema Orchards in Ada, and Andrew Blake of Blake's Hard Cider Company in Armada. While large brewers have led the national growth in hard cider—Boston Beer Company (Samuel Adams) has Angry Orchard Cider and MillerCoors has Crispin and Smith & Forge—small cider makers have been increasing in both number and volume. The Great Lakes Cider & Perry Association lists 62 members on its website, a third from Michigan. —R. Lehnert W ith consumption of hard apple cider surging—growth last year alone was pegged at 89 percent—some apple growers are looking to grow some cider varieties, either to sell or start a cidery of their own. Not to burst a bubble, but tree providers say it's likely going to take at least seven years, and probably longer, to get "genuine" hard cider apple trees, and it'll be risky for those who decide to do it. Right now, no one knows which varieties they should plant—that is, if the goal is to grow the old varieties that are used in northern France and England, where draft cider is widely consumed. In the meantime, those who have such varieties, or others with cider rep- utations, will find demand very strong and prices stronger than anyone could ever imagine for juice apples. Given this outlook, those who attended the packed hard cider session during the Great Lakes Fruit, Vegetable, and Farm Market Expo came out a mixed group—some deflated, others exhilarated. Among those feeling the upside are growers who have Rhode Island Greening, Baldwin, Northern Spy, Wealthy, and some other varieties—including the modern varieties Golden Delicious and GoldRush—that are American as apple pie but have good potential in quality hard-cider production. Much of the recent growth in hard cider has been built on the McIntosh variety. Josh Wunsch and his daughter Adele, who were in the crowd, said they were finding a good market for their Rhode Island Greenings. These apples are growing on old-style trees more than 60 years old on a poor site near their farm of mostly cherries in Traverse City. Josh Wunsch said they'd have been pulled out years ago except the frosty site wasn't wanted for anything else. He sold 15,000 bushels last year for around 15 cents a pound. Other processing apples were selling for 10 to 12 cents, and juice apples were well below that. Another happy pair were Tim and Cindy Ward of Eastman's Antique Apples, located near Midland in eastern Michigan. (See "Looking for fruit," Good Fruit Grower, January 1, 2012). They have 112 acres devoted to about 1,400 antique varieties, many of them old cider varieties. They sell some to other cider makers, but want to further develop their own cidery. Tim was looking at new grafting tools at Expo. He had to acquire graft- ing skills to maintain the antique apples, and has the budwood needed to produce more trees. Those who found the news more depressing are would-be growers and cider makers who want to use more exotic European varieties with names like Brown Snout, Foxwhelp, Hereford Redstreak, Dabinette, and Binet Rouge. These are just not avail- able in any quantity. Moreover, there are more than 80 such varieties, and nobody has yet come up with a short list of ten or so that would be easy and productive to grow. As an example, the Northwest Michigan Horticultural Research Station north of Traverse City has ordered 31 different varieties to evaluate. Dr. Ian Merwin, the Cornell University pomologist who retired and now nurtures his antique apple orchard, described 20 of the varieties he thinks are good for cider. (See New York Fruit Quarterly, winter, 2008, and "Where to find unusual apples," Good Fruit Grower, March 15, 2011, both available on the Internet). Wafler Nurseries in New York has 26 varieties it is able to make for growers. "The lists don't overlap much," said Nikki Rothwell, the coordinator of the Northwest Michigan station. She and her husband, Dan Young, operate Tandem Ciders (see "Cider history repeated," Good Fruit Grower, August, 2013). They tried a small planting of 10 trees each of 15 varieties, and many of them died during the hard winter of 2013-14. "We just don't know what will grow or how to grow them," she said. During the Expo session, a key piece of advice emerged. While it's true that England and France are models to look at, it doesn't mean Americans need to copy them. Americans don't know enough about hard cider "We're on a really fast horse." —Paul Vander Heide GERALDINE WARNER/GOOD FRUIT GROWER Porter's Perfection is a bittersharp apple variety that originated in Somerset, England, during the 19th century. It has a peculiar tendency to produce fused apples.

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