Over the past few years, natural wine has been having a big moment in the US. We’re hesitant to call it a “trend,” which seems to imply that at some point it will fall out of fashion (we’re not big fans of people referring to craft cider as a trend, either). But it cannot be denied that it’s easier than ever to find wines, imported from all over the world and made here, too, which are made by small producers with minimal intervention. The same values that matter to us as cider fans — real, fresh ingredients versus super-processed ones, environmentally sustainable farming practices which don’t harm the planet, the absences of added chemicals, stabilizers, dyes, and so on — are also the hallmarks of natural wine. It’s all about thoughtfully farmed or sourced fruit, native yeasts, and nothing sneaky happening in the cellar. It’s about transparency. (For more on what natural wine is and means, check out this helpful article by Raw Wine).
As wine and cider are much more like cousins than wine and beer, with nary a grain to be seen, it’s not a surprise that there are a bunch of natural winemakers who also dabble with fermenting apples. If you’re curious about natural wine, or, like us you are a big fan of the dissolving boundaries between beverage categories, these producers are a very sensible and exciting place to start. Here are seven to explore:
Situated in the dramatic landscape of rural Yamhill County, Oregon, Art + Science produces natural cider, perry and wine using mostly foraged fruit and indigenous yeast fermentation. Its wines include a gorgeous Pinot Noir pet-nat, a still Pinot Noir and an awesome cider/wine co-ferment called Symbiosis. Its cider program includes Humble Apple, made with wild fruit, Humble Perry, made with biodynamic pears and Little Apples, made from foraged crab apples. There’s even a foraged quince cider! The cider inside may taste funky, but that’s just because they’re as natural is they come. Curious? Shop online or dig through your most out-there local bottle shop and hope to get lucky.
Another well-respected and deeply-coveted natural winemaker in Oregon is Hiyu Wine Farm, in Mt. Hood. Its 30 acres of earth are only 22 miles from the summit of Mt. Hood, and the growing conditions most closely resemble the French Alps. From the growing methodology, like no mowing or tilling, no vine interruption, using cinnamon oil and mixed herbal tea sprays instead of sulfur to control mildew, to the cellar, these folks are as hands-off as possible. In addition to making a number of wine cuvees, Hiyu also makes a collaboration cider, Floreal Cider, with their neighbors, Brady, Molly and John Jacobson who farm a biodynamic orchard at the base of Mt. Hood. Together, they’ve planted over 80 different cider varieties, and also make use of the heirloom dessert apples, like Wixon Crab, Hudson’s Golden and Cox’s Orange Pippin, that were originally grown on the property. No matter the type of cider, the apples are aged for a month after picking, then milled and macerated for a week and pressed in a straw-lined basket press. Fermentation and aging takes places in old barrels, and regardless of style, nothing is ever added but apples. Floreal Cider III is the most recent release and is available via Hiyu Farm’s online shop, but only to its wine club members, or in person at its Tasting Room in Oregon.
Western Maryland might not have the reputation for being a hotbed of natural wine making … yet. Siblings Drew, Lisa and Ashil Baker are the team behind Old Westminster Winery, and have been producing some of the most electric juice on the East Coast. In addition to making fun canned sparkling wine, spritzy piquette and elegant, expressive still wines, Old Westminster recently expanded into the wild world of craft cider. In the fall of 2019, it released Happy Camper, a cider crafted from heirloom apples grown in local orchards and pressed directly to American oak barrels, where it spends several months before bottling. Keeping in line with the winery’s minimalist intervention practices, Happy Camper is made with no additives (that means no added yeast, nutrients, sulfites, enzymes, sugar, adjuncts, etc), and it is dry, earthy and refreshing. Though OW does have a robust online shop, the cider isn’t always available; if you’re in the greater Baltimore/DC area, check out local retailers, or stop by Old Westminster’s stunning tasting room to pick some up.
Further up the East Coast, Oyster River Winegrowers makes wine and cider in a low-intervention style on its farm in Warren, Maine, using both organic fruit grown on site and sourced from other growers in the Northeast. Known for its epic, cloudy, yeasty Morphos pét-nats and super-juicy Carbonic Nation red, Oyster River also makes a handful of ciders, including Wildman, made from apples gathered from wild seedling trees and unknown varieties from unmaintained trees, native yeast fermented, unfiltered and bottle-conditioned with no added sulfites. Its other consistently-produced cider is a dry cider produced from apples grown at Willow Pond Orchards in Sabattus, Maine, which is light, dry, sour, made with partial native yeast fermentation. Check out Oyster River’s online shop or find its products in better bottle shops.
Capturing the terroir of Central California coast, Scar of the Sea is the project of friends Mikey Giugni and Michael Brughelli. It sources grapes from a number of vineyards in the region to make its fine line up of wines, including Syrah, Charddonay and Pinot Noir. Its ciders are made with apples harvested from a handful of local orchards, like Bear Creek Ranch in Santa Cruz, Chadmark Farms in Paso Robles and Kids Inc Orchards in the Sierra Foothills. From this fruit comes a number of cider styles, including the flagship California Hard Cider, Dry Hopped Cider and Newtown Pippin Cider. They’re all native yeast fermented, re-fermented with fresh juice (not sugar) and unfiltered for cloudy and textural ciders. Scar of the Sea wines and ciders are available for purchase through its website.
Wild Arc Farm defines itself as an “experiment in biodynamic permaculture and viticulture in the Hudson Valley.” While he waits for his own vines to take root and grow on his property in Pine Bush, NY, winemaker Todd Cavallo manages a few local vineyards and has established relationships with orchardists. With this fruit, he has been releasing a number of exciting wines over the past few years, including a piquette that natural wine geeks go wild for. Cider is in the mix, too, in the form of To Eris, a spontaneously fermented blend of Mutsu, Golden Delicious and Orange Quince, and Sweetheart, 100% Northern Spy cider that was aged in tank for a year, rested on spent Teroldego skins for 2 months, and then pressed and aged in neutral oak for another 4 months. Wild Arc’s wines and ciders are extremely sought after and can be hard to come by; the best way to snag some is to follow on Instagram and keep an eye out for announcements about releases on the website.
Krista Scruggs is a winemaker who works primarily in Texas and Vermont. She’s also a partner in CO Cellars, the tasting room in Burlington, Vermont, that she co-owns with Shacksbury Cider. Through her winemaking venture, ZAFA Wines, she releases a handful of gorgeous natural wines, all made with native yeast fermentation, no sulfur additions, fining, filtering, or, as she puts it, “funny business in the winery.” Though Scruggs occasionally co-ferments apples and grapes under the ZAFA label, the mash-up happens more often through collaborations with Shacksbury, like the recently released BDE, a keg conditioned blend of ZAFA Frontenac Gris and Shacksbury’s 4 Apple Blend Barrel Aged Cider. Plums were added to this tasty juice, and local organic maple syrup from nearby Ledgenear Farm as the tirage for keg conditioning. Learn more about Scruggs’ work and philosophy via her website.
Are you into natural wine as well as cider? Do you know of other winemakers producing cider, or other grape/apple co-ferments and hybrids that should be on our radar? Let us know in the comments here or via the Cider Culture Facebook page.
- Feature photo: Cider Culture