Experiment in Cider: Harder is Better
TO WALK GEOFF THOMPSON'S APPLE orchards with him is to witness a man truly enamored with his farm. To hear him discuss the finer points of the conical, russeted Hudson’s Golden Gem apple, the astringent properties of the Nehou that make it ideal for cider, or the story of the original Macintosh tree he planted in 1976 is like hearing a proud father introduce his children.
The 4-acre orchard that supplies Thompson’s apples dates from the 1870s. Thompson purchased the property in 1978 after a few years producing small quantities of cider in a nearby home he’d been renting. He devoted years to clearing out the orchard’s overgrowth and planting a wide variety of apples, with a special focus on heirloom varieties that intrigued him. The orchard now comprises 520 trees of at least 30 varieties. Most of the fruit is destined for the cider mill.
“I like blending,” says Thompson. “You can make a perfectly good cider from a single varietal—like a Chardonnay—and it’ll be fine, it’ll taste good. But I think complexity is what makes [cider] interesting.” (Thompson’s allusion to wine is apropos: His cider truly does roll around the mouth like wine, the different flavors revealing themselves at different moments, blooming softly on the tongue.)
Thompson’s operation thus far has been essentially a weekend farm—he hasn’t had the space, personnel or time to expand beyond his core cider business. Saturday morning cider-making demonstrations are scheduled, and there are apples, pears and peaches for sale, as well as pies and local honey. But there’s a key product missing from the lineup. He obtained federal cidery permits to produce hard cider over a decade ago but stopped short of the then-complicated state permitting process. “I started experimenting with hard cider years ago,” Thompson says. “I guess I was before my time, because now it’s all the rage!”
Now that the state has changed the farm cidery regs, Thompson has stepped up his cider experimentation—he’s even toured cideries in Normandy to study processes and equipment. He hopes to have his first Champagne-style hard cider ready for the fall 2016 season. “Some people golf,” he quips. “Me? I wake up every weekend and I do this.”