Taking the Cider Route in the Port Townsend area of Washington State’s Olympic Peninsula is a treat on many levels. The beautiful pastoral drive takes you through coastal views and over rolling hills. You’ll pass small farms and country homesteads. The tasting rooms are all well-designed, heavy on natural woods, and warm and welcoming. Whether you’re a veteran cider drinker or new to hard ciders, there’s no better place to enjoy them more than at the cider apple orchards and cideries themselves!
Alpenfire enjoys the distinction of being Washington’s only certified-organic hard cider maker. Every aspect of their farm shows consideration for the land and the abundant wildlife that also calls the farm home. Their apples are all grown organically. Using sustainable practices, they’ve avoided disease or insect damage. No additive sulfites are used in their products, which requires extra care when it comes to fruit cleanliness, processing speed and temperature control. They find satisfaction in knowing their ciders are truly natural and fresh.
When Steve “Bear” and Nancy Bishop first started their cidery, they planted more than 800 trees, including 10 varieties of English, French and Early American cider apples. They continue to plant more trees, including perry pear trees. Bear describes how cider and dessert apples differ, how the tannins and bitters of these cider apples and the labor-intensive fermentation process produce the cider they make so well. The Bishops love to show people their trellised orchard.
It’s easy to see how they love the land and the lives they’ve created. Don’t miss seeing the cidery and equipment. There’s the chopper and apple press, the cider tanks, oak barrels, pumps and bottling equipment. Seeing how the cider is made makes you appreciate what they—and other cider makers—do all the more.
Their Pirate Plank “Bone Dry” remains one of my favorite ciders. This is the one that got me interested in ciders. “Glow” is a rosé cider, made from the bright red flesh of Hidden Rose apples. Red-fleshed apples, still rare in the U.S., are all the rage in the cider world right now; the fruit flavor and the acidity is thought to be perfect, a true cider maker’s apple. If you haven’t already, you’ll be hearing more about it. Glow is a rosé cider you need to try; fermented with wild yeasts, the flavors are truly unique.
Alpenfire also has a line of vinegars. Some, like their wasabi vinegar are produced using house-made apple vinegar as their base. Some use fermented fresh fruits, such as raspberries or strawberries. The vinegars can be used in cooking or to create salad dressings. But they’re increasingly popular in cocktails and as “shrubs;” tart beverages made with sparkling water or club soda, without added spirits. I’ve never cared for sweet sodas, and I’ve been experimenting a lot with these flavored vinegar drinks; even making some of my own. Alpenfire’s English Ale and Cabernet were favorites. Like ciders, these vinegars take a lot of care to make. The flavors will win you over.
Eaglemount Wine & Cider
Trudy and Jim Davis began making ciders on their 33 acre farm since 1996, and wine a couple of years after that. Their farm is one of the area’s oldest homesteads, from 1883, and some of the trees are original plantings. To the uninitiated, a really old apple tree looks, well, old. As if, maybe its’ time is up and needs to make way for a new tree. Its’ trunk and branches are gnarled and twisted. It shows all the scars and bumps from the cold winters and broken branches they’ve weathered and healed from over the years. But Jim knows the beauty and value of these trees. “They just know what to do,” he says. “Year after year, they produce and produce. You don’t do much in the way of caring for them, they just know their jobs.”
The inviting tasting room is just adjacent to the cider and wine making equipment. Trudy tells us they’ve just bought a new 300 gallon tank, which will help them keep up with production. “We’re a victim of our own success,” she smiles.
Their signature cider is Homestead Dry, made with their heirloom cider apples and it’s got great apple taste and fruit scent. Also, try the Boot Brawl, a hopped cider.
Ginger ciders are very popular right now, and this is one I take home with me. (I find out later Eaglemount’s was selected as one of Sunset Magazine’s 49 “best bottles” in the world.) It’s refreshing on its own, but fabulous with any Asian food or as a cocktail with a splash of vodka. Quince has also become a popular ingredient for ciders and brandies, and Eaglemount’s has just the right tartness and flavor.
“My favorite part of making ciders is the wonderful aromas,” Trudy says, “The aromas from the apples as they ripen in the orchard, the pressing, the fermenting ciders in the cider room, and bottling the ciders.”
Eaglemount started selling their red wines in 2006 after years of making it for their own enjoyment. Their grapes are sourced mostly from excellent vineyards in eastern Washington, but they also grow their own cab franc and want to expand their farm to grow more of their own grapes. Their three Bordeaux-style blends, Osprey, Raptor Reserve and Raven are rich, full-bodied; wines perfect for drinking now, but also wines that will age well. I also take home a bottle of their Cab Franc Port.
The Davis’ love living on their farm. Trudy says, “I feel like we’re continuing in the tradition of the homesteaders harvesting the fruit and making our ciders.”
Finnriver Farm & Cider
To many city people, the allure of a move to a country farm is the belief they would be “getting away from it all;” leaving the hustle and bustle and constant activity behind. They obviously haven’t been to Finnriver.
Owners Crystie and Keith Kisler work, live and raise their children on these 33 acres. Together, they manage their busy, working organic farm. But they don’t do it in isolation.
Keith and Crystie work with a large crew of farm help who run the tasting room and manage the apple orchards, blueberries and other berries, produce crops and flower gardens. They raise chickens, ducks, pigs and goats and keep bees. They sell eggs from the chickens, some of the meat they butcher, and crops they grow at the farm stand and at farmer’s markets. They host year-round events in the beautiful pavilion adjacent to the tasting room, including wedding and other private events, and wood-fired pizza parties open to the public. They host a busy internship program that provides their apprentices hands-on learning in organic farming. Staff helps take care of some of the business end of things and give farm tours. They maintain Huckleberry House, a beautifully simple home adjacent to the farm that can be rented for a farm stay. Keith works with Washington State University and the Organic Seed Alliance to test grains that can be grown in their maritime climate. Crystie writes a beautifully poetic blog about her adventures, called, “The Farmwife Diaries.”
And they produce excellent farm crafted and fermented hard ciders and fruit wines. Some of the best, in fact. You’ll find a large line of artisan apple, pear and fruit ciders, dessert wines and liqueurs at Finnriver.
Finnriver’s pear products are all superior; don’t miss trying their pear brandy dessert wine or their port-style spirited pear wine. New this year is Perry Perry, a welcome addition to the line. Finnriver’s perry is made with heritage perry pears; slightly smaller than eating or cooking pears, and high in tannins and acidity. Perry pears go through a maturing process after picking, which changes some of the sugars, and a secondary fermentation stage, all resulting in a slightly sweeter finish with really interesting flavors.
Visitors truly are welcome at Finnriver. Don some farm-friendly shoes if need be, and don’t miss the chance to walk the self-guided “Soil and Salmon Trail” around the farm. The path takes you past the vegetable crops, flowers, berry field, chickens and pigs, and more.
Visiting these three farms will leave you refreshed, allow you meet these fun and interesting cider makers, and allow you to enjoy the fruits of their efforts! ! –Story and photos by Nancy Zaffaro, Northwest Wine, Brews & Spirits Editor
IF YOU GO:
Check with the farms for tasting room hours (they vary by the season).
Alpenfire Cider, 220 Pocket Lane, Port Townsend, WA 98368, www.alpenfirecider.com
Eaglemount Wine & Cider, 2350 Eaglemount Road, Port Townsend, WA 983868, www.eaglemountwinery.com
Finnriver Farm & Cidery, 62 Barn Swallow Road, Chimicum, WA 98325, www.finnriver.com
For more information about Port Townsend, WA, visit the Port Townsend Visitor Information Center, 440 12th Street, Port Townsend, www.EnjoyPT.com.
For Olympic Peninsula info, visit www.OlympicPeninsula.org.