The Flynt’sFoggy Ridge was Virginia’s first modern hard cider producer; it ignited a local cider boom that has echoed nationwide. Today, Virginia brands include Albemarle, Bold Rock, Castle Hill, Old Hill and Potter’s Craft. Two more cider works are expected to open in 2013, according to the Virginia Wine Board Marketing Office. (Virginia licenses cider works as farm wineries.) With the state’s official Cider Week coming up next month, I went on a scouting trip.
The national market for hard cider grew 23 percent last year, to 5.7 million cases, according to Shanken News Daily, which covers the alcoholic beverage business. Brands such as Woodchuck, Strongbow, Crispin and Ace led the way. Crispin, acquired this year by MillerCoors, is expected to sell 1.4 million cases in 2012. Boston Beer launched Angry Orchard cider in April. A month later, Anheuser-Busch reached for its slice of the pie with Michelob Ultra Light Cider.
Flynt rankles at the involvement of the beer behemoths. She champions her small-production artisan approach. “Cider is a niche in the beverage market,” she says. “Artisan cider is an alcove inside a niche.” Her way means growing heirloom varieties traditionally used for cider and pressing only once a year, in the fall after the apples are harvested.
“You can’t make great cider from Red Delicious and Granny Smith,” Flynt says. “Those make sweet, apple-y, one-dimensional ciders that taste like apple juice from a jar.” Foggy Ridge ciders are typically blends crafted to balance the sweetness and acidity of various apples while capturing structure and complexity from the tannins Flynt craves. Her apples have names such as Foxwhelp and Cox’s Orange Pippin as well as Hewe’s Virginia Crab, which Thomas Jefferson used to make cider. (Flynt obtained her first budwood for the variety from Monticello.) Most are grown at Foggy Ridge; she buys Stayman and Newtown Pippin apples from nearby growers.
The production cycle at Foggy Ridge is similar to a winery’s, with the fruit pressed soon after the fall harvest. Flynt experiments with several blends in January and bottles in the spring. Lot numbers on the back labels of Foggy Ridge cider note the year in which the apples were harvested.