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Friday, October 3, 2014

At Devoto Cider, the Apple Doesn’t Fall Far From the Tree

Posted By on Fri, Oct 3, 2014 at 11:50 AM

(L to R) Devoto Cider President Hunter Wade, cider maker Rick Davis, apple farmer Stan Devoto, and co-owner/marking/R&D/everything else cider related Jolie Devoto-Wade - KIMBERLEY HASSLEBRINK
  • Kimberley Hasslebrink
  • (L to R) Devoto Cider President Hunter Wade, cider maker Rick Davis, apple farmer Stan Devoto, and co-owner/marking/R&D/everything else cider related Jolie Devoto-Wade

Blame the national hysteria around gluten, the juice craze, or the exploding interest in craft beer, but hard cider is hot right now. It occupies an interesting middle ground of being somewhere in-between beer and wine and, according to some statistics, has equal appeal for both men and women (where beer consumption skews dramatically towards men).

While breweries own and run many of the cider brands and companies, Jolie Devoto-Wade, daughter of organic apple farmer Stan Devoto, operates Devoto Cider with her husband, Hunter. Not surprisingly, Devoto-Wade, who grew up among the orchards of 100-plus varieties of apples, uses the organic apples grown on her family’s farm.

But oddly enough, it wasn’t the apple orchards that provided the inspiration to make cider, but a trip to Spain.

“To be honest, we loved the idea of making wine, as that remains a passion of mine," says Devoto-Wade. “Then we went on an incredible journey across the north of Spain and discovered sidra, Spanish style cider… When we moved back, we had extremely special apple varieties to work with. It made sense to make cider, which is much like the winemaking process.”

The farm in Sebastopol started in 1976 when Stan and his wife Susan moved there to be close to nature and to grow flowers and microgreens. While tending to some old apple trees on the property, Stan’s interest and love for the trees soon blossomed into a core part of the farms business. Frequent shoppers to the Ferry Building farmers markets will recognize the name from Devoto Gardens, and Stan from his stall in front of the building and his wide selection of apples.

Devoto Cider head cidermaker (and former winemaker) Rick Davis makes three different ciders, all very lightly carbonated: 1976 ($12.99/750ml), a semi-dry cider made from the 17 different heirloom varieties Stan and Susan Devoto originally planted on their orchard; the crisp and hearty Cidre Noir ($12.99/750ml) that uses Arkansas Black, Black Twig, and Black Jonathan apples as the foundation; and the Save the Gravenstein ($11.99/750ml) which features the endangered apple in a semi-dry, food-friendly cider.

Using about 50 different varieties of apples for their three ciders, Devoto Cider includes types of apples that aren’t the kind that makes great eating out of hand, but when fermented, add necessary framework and depth. “Many of our varieties are English and French ‘Bittersweets’ and ‘Bittersharps’ — traditional cider apples,” says Devoto-Wade. “The bitter means high tannin, the sharp means acid. A small percentage of bitter cider fruit with charismatic heirloom fruit makes a gorgeous, well-structured cider.”

A rising tide lifts all boats, but it doesn’t mean that all ciders are equal or natural. Take a glance at the ingredients list of some commercial ciders and you might be surprised to see things there listed other than apples. Water, flavorings, sweeteners, and acids are common additives.

But even when the only ingredient listed is “apples” on some commercial ciders, the first step of the process likely doesn’t include harvesting or pressing fresh apples. “Most commercial producers are using concentrates as the base of their ciders," says Devoto-Wade. “When starting with concentrates, all one needs to do is add water and it will more than likely be a clean ferment, because concentrates are pre-pasteurized and are void of any spoilage organisms. Cidermakers using concentrates produce ciders in rolling batches, much like the model of a brewery, versus a winery. This way, it is very inexpensive to make to cider.”

In comparison, other producers like Devoto Cider are taking the winemaker approach: pressing fresh apples and only making their ciders once a year during apple season. It’s extra work that leaves them vulnerable to the whims of nature, and competing with cheaply made, sweetened, fermented apple juice.

Thankfully, you can taste the difference that make cider makers like Devoto Cider the pick of the bunch.
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