Autumn and Eve: How the State's Cider Industry Has Changed Over the Last Decade
When Autumn Stoscheck received her cidery license in 2002, she was just 21 years old -- and the State Liquor Authority told her she was the youngest person in New York State to hold a license. So, unlike many of the producers now jumping into the game, this is the only career she's ever known.
Making cider, Stoscheck explains, was a commercial outlet for her love for orcharding, which she discovered while working on a farm when she took a break from college. "I thought, if I can have a career pruning apple trees, that's what I want to do," she says. "So how do I do that?"
She got her answer a short time later, when Farnum Hill founder Stephen M. Wood appeared on the cover of a trade magazine. Wood grew apples just for cider-making. "I couldn't believe it," says Stoscheck. "I drove up to New Hampshire and met him."
Wood took her under his wing, teaching her what he could about what was then an incredibly nascent industry. Soon, Stoscheck was grafting his trees into her own orchard, located on a family farm in the Finger Lakes. In 2002, Eve's Cidery made its first run.
Stoscheck later met her husband, Ezra Sherman, through the cidery; their mothers knew each other, and they suggested Sherman, a lawyer by training, volunteer to help out one season. He was a home winemaker, so he took to the job quickly. The pair now run the cidery with their partner, James Cummins. Today, the trio has about 20 acres of apples in production, grown specifically for fermenting cider. They adhere to organic farming methods, though they aren't certified. And they produce about 6,000 gallons of cider a year, most of which is pressed during harvest season (September through November).
Eve's Cidery will be in New York City for Cider Week, which runs from October 24 through November 2. Check out the Cider Week website for event details.
How would you explain cider to a newbie? This is a beverage made from the fermented juice of apples. Apples are to cider as grapes are to wine.
Tell me a bit about building your business. My goal was to earn a living pruning apple trees. I started the business with money I'd earned from waitressing -- I'm kind of an anti-capitalist, so it was weird to be a business owner. We have a working farm in Appalachia, and everything we've bought, we've financed from what we earned that year. It's been very slow. Our production is really small, and it's limited by the amount of fruit we can produce. Growing an orchard is a long-term commitment. It starts with two years of raising the tree in the nursery. Then you plant, and depending on style of planting, you could get fruit in the fourth year, but most likely, you won't get a full crop until sixth, so that's eight years before you're getting fruit. Some are 10 years before you're getting a full crop. You're making an investment in establishing this planting, and you hope it will outlast you in its lifetime.
When we started making cider, there wasn't a cider industry -- the university doesn't have a cider expert in the oenology department. So we're learning to make better cider every year -- and there's a lot more to learn and know. That keeps it exciting to me. Even if we looked to England or France, fruit grows differently here. So it has to be reinvented here.
Why the Finger Lakes? We're buying the farm from my dad; it belonged to my grandparents -- and my parents live next door. New York state is second in apple production in this country, behind Washington. So there's a long tradition of apple-growing. That's neat. There are little regions around the state, like Ontario, Hudson Valley, and the Finger Lakes. It has the perfect temperate climate, with warm summers and crisp falls, so you get acidity and flavor. There's varied topography. We have two orchard locations, so we have two different types of soil. It's really amazing how different the fruit is from each location. New York has these areas that have distinct soil and climactic conditions. It's a great place for a cider revival -- you can try ciders from different regions from within New York, and they're distinct to where they were grown.
How would you characterize your ciders? We're fruit-focused. A lot of where we concentrate our efforts is in the orchard, and that ultimately influences your juice. For our sparkling, we use the Champagne method. A lot of cider is force-carbonated, but we sort of feel like if you're going to have a bubbly beverage, it should have wonderful, exquisite bubbles. Natural fermentation in the bottle gives it those tiny elegant bubbles. My favorite cider that we make is a still cider -- we use tannic bittersweet apples, and I really love the aroma, the balance of the beverage, and the tannic structure. It's best enjoyed at cellar temperature. But all of ur cider is focused, clean, and fruit-oriented. And dry -- very dry.
How many varieties do you make? Seven or eight this year. In 2013, we made more -- we have less apples this year, so we won't have as many esoteric things.
Where does your name come from? A song by Pete Seeger -- my name is Autumn, and my parents were hippies. But Pete Seeger wrote a song called "Letters to Eve" that uses Adam and Eve as a metaphor for how you approach solving problems in the world. Adam is a pacifist -- he's more resigned, and he says we should just play music and make the world beautiful. Eve is a freedom fighter -- she says we have to create the world that we want to see. So it's my secret feminist take on things. It's also an obvious reference to an apple.
How does seasonality affect your business? If you are a grower or a cider-maker or working directly with growers, you know that a great cider can't be made from apples out of cold storage any time of the year, nor on a production schedule like beer. We make our cider in the way that a person makes wine -- as you harvest, you are pressing and beginning fermentation.That all happens in three months -- September, October, November. Then you get maturation in the winter, before we create our blends. We'll bottle it to begin secondary fermentation in early spring -- that takes about four months. Then we disgorge to take the yeast out. We let it rest, and then we release it. So we release our 2014 ciders in July of 2015. That doesn't define how all ciders are made -- that's just how we do it, once a year.
Is the cider industry today different from when you first launched, in 2002? For a really long time, basically until about three years ago, cider has been this thing that people don't know what it is. A lot of our sales have been direct-to-consumer, so it's us giving them a tasting, and telling them what cider tastes like for the first time. That's sort of cool -- think about all the things you have had in your life related to food and wine, and that all gets taken away. You're giving them a thing to taste that they have no context for. And they're like, "Oh, that's good." But it's a hard road to travel down -- every single sale has felt like an explanation of the entire category. But in the past three years, we've seen a tremendous change. It started with people coming up and saying, "Oh, this is cider? My sister likes that" or "I had that at a party." So it was recognized, and now I'm feeling like I'm not having conversations about what it is. Now I'm having conversations about why it's good, how we make it, and what you should pair it with, which are the conversations I wanted to be having at the beginning.
There's still a long way to go. But now, it's maybe less about cider becoming a category that people are aware of, and more about changing the perception of what cider is. The cider that people are the most exposed to is mass-market cider made with only 50 percent apples, concentrate, and glucose; you get it in a pint glass at the bar, and it's cheap, sweet, and fizzy. We're making cider that is an orchard-based fermented beverage that is made from locally grown apples and is very delicious as a dry beverage.
How do you raise awareness? The idea behind Cider Week is brilliant. One of the reasons why cider's becoming more popular is because cidermakers are talking to their customers. But if we have allies in the trade, they can use their knowledge of food and beverage to educate people. Cider is a great pairing. Cider is a great aperitif. And Cider Week is really brilliant in involving those professionals and applying their knowledge and understanding to cider. Customers are looking to them for guidance and advice. It's been really effective.
Do you think there's an American style of cider? When people try to define cider in a style -- unless it's something that has a centuries-long history in a certain locale, with a certain variety, and matched to a certain cuisine -- I think it's contrived. The sort of affected styles here are maybe ciders that have a lot of adjuncts added to them -- other fruits or hops, something to flavor the cider with. And people are trying to say that one way of making it is what defines American cider. What's so much more interesting to me -- and this is analogous to wine, because what cider is going through now is what wine went through 50 years ago -- is that more cider-makers are emerging whose main intention is to make cider as a beverage that expresses the region that their apples come from. The cider expresses the fruit and isn't cluttered by these other assets. We're not all making cider in one way or one style. Ezra and I have this philosophy: You can take wonderful fruit and screw it up with your winemaking, but you can't take bad fruit and make good cider. That's our role. Ciders can be really different, but the element that links them is that they really revere the fruit that they're using, and they're attempting to showcase that fruit, not hide it.
What would you like to see happen in this industry? More people who are making orchard-based cider. People collaborating with each other, sharing ideas, pushing each other. I'd love to see some university get involved and apply some research -- there are a lot of areas that we're figuring out on our own, which is cool, but I see how the wine industry is supported, and I would love that. I would love to see more cider orchards being planted. It's perennial agriculture, and it creates an ecosystem where it's planted. It doesn't tear up the soil. I'm a big fan of orchards. Having thriving orchards in your community makes it a place people want to visit, not destroy, and it gives people agricultural-based jobs.
Any favorite food pairings? The way that I drink our cider most often is while I'm cooking dinner -- I have a little cheese and a little still cider. Cider and cheese is such an obvious pairing. Sweet ice cider with blue cheese. Semi-dry with sharp-aged cheddar. Tannic still with aged gouda. And then you have obvious pairings that are traditional -- crepes, or seafood. I make a dish often that's mussels, garlic, and tomato cooked down in cider. Generally, great tannic ciders present something not found in the other beverage categories -- they're palate-cleansing with mouth watering acidity, which helps get rid of palate fatigue. Tannins stand up to richer, fattier foods -- and that offers advantage over red and white wine in certain situations.
What are your goals? I have three. First, to grow our business a little bit more to the point where it's more financially sustainable than it is now. That means doubling production capacity, but keeping us in the same farm and equipment. The second is an artistic goal: I want to make what I sort of imagine in my mind's eye as the most amazing cider. It's an abstract vision for me, but I'm probably honing in on the elements that it has and then achieving that in the orchard and cidery. And the last is something we're already neck deep in, and that's to have our cidery also be sustainable in the sense that it's not just burning through resources. We're working on getting the cider switched over to renewable energy sources, and we're halfway there. Organic production is very important to us. So it's to be able to have a thriving agricultural-based business that's also viable for the environment.
What are your plans for Cider Week? We're doing a dinner at the Farm on Adderley in Brooklyn, and my husband Ezra will be down there talking about cider-making. We're also doing a couple of tastings, and a lot of staff chats. We're talking with our customers about ciders so they're more excited.
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