Cider Makes a Comeback

12/15/2012 7:00 AM
By Deborah Jeanne Sergeant New York Correspondent

NY Workshop Draws Potential Producers From Near and Far

GENEVA, N.Y. — Cider is booming in the U.S.

From January to the end of July this year, cider sales showed 77 percent growth from the same time period in 2011, according to Peter Mitchell, an internationally recognized authority on cider and perry production.

Mitchell addressed about two dozen participants at “Cider & Perry Production: Principles & Practice,” a workshop at the New York State Agricultural Experiment Station, hosted by Cornell University and the National Association of Cider Makers.

Mitchell is owner of Mitchell F&D Limited, a specialist training and consultancy business in Gloucestershire, UK, that includes the Cider & Perry Academy. He also has his own demonstration commercial production facility at the Orchard Centre at Hartpury, Gloucestershire.

Mitchell has more than 25 years experience in the business and is widely sought as a speaker on cider production.

“Shake the Tree,” a Sept. 30 story in The Wall Street Journal, calls the uptick in cider sales an “American cider renaissance,” referencing the heyday of America’s cider consumption in 18th century up until Prohibition.

Mitchell speculates that consumption tapered off then, not necessarily because alcoholic drinks were illegal, but because cider takes longer to make than beer and impatient people wishing to imbibe rejected cider for drinks that were more easily made.

As to whether or not growth in the cider industry is sustainable, Mitchell said, “It’s up to you. I think so. It may not keep growing like this, but I think if you’re careful about it, it will keep growing.”

He believes the surge in growth of cider in the U.S. is largely because of the product’s greater availability and more intense promotion by the industry.

“Now there are six to eight different brands of it in the store, not just one,” Mitchell said. “More orchards are selling it.”

Whether or not a farm store may sell “hard cider” — to which Mitchell primarily referred, not nonalcoholic “sweet cider” — depends upon the laws of its municipality. Farm stores that are allowed to sell it also must obtain a liquor license.

Although 2012 was a terrible year for many growers in New York and elsewhere, Mitchell said the cider industry overall was not deeply affected by the weather.

“Apples are always widely available,” he said. “You’ll have local challenges, but that’s not necessarily impacting price.”

Color has helped spur sales, as it’s the latest trend in cider.

“I’ve noted that anything pink sells in certain markets, like raspberry cider,” Mitchell said. “There are lots of flavored cider in North America that you may not even call cider.’ It’s a big seller at the moment but these things come and go. Pale was popular for a while. Maybe next it will be purple!”

He said some “apple wines,” depending upon how they are processed, are really cider beverages.

Many of the workshop’s participants — such as Donald and Jennifra Gray, who came up form North Carolina for the program — attended because they had heard about the growth in the cider market and are exploring the possibility of opening a cider operation.

“We just like it and are considering buying a farm,” Donald said. “Maybe we’ll buy some land in North Carolina or elsewhere.”

Jonathan Witczak and his business partner, Jason Zidell, came from Portland, Ore., “because we wanted to learn more about the business,” Witczak said.

Witczak and Zidell have made cider for four years, and Witzcak has been brewing beer for 11.

“We’re looking at opening a cider business,” Zidell said.

After stints in hypnotism and in real estate sales, Zidell said he wants to “reinvent myself in farming.”

Vanessa McKean, representing Kay’s Vineyard in Collingwood, Ontario, Canada, also wanted to learn more about cider making with the thought of expanding the vineyard into cider. The business already grows apples, so adding to its line of beverages makes perfect sense, she said, especially since customers have been asking about cider.

“In our area, we’re doing lots of replanting with high-density orchards,” McKean said.

The miniature trees, supported in fashion similar to grapevines, cram more productivity into the business’ 13 acres dedicated to apples. Making cider would help Kay’s boost revenue with yet another product line, she said.


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