Patrick has been shopping at Domestique since we opened. He came in often specifically looking for bubbles (Marnes Blanches Cremant and Capriades, among others). After chatting a bit, we learned he was making his own cider in Virginia. He came down for a tasting with Benoit Lesuffleur in July of 2019 and brought some samples. Almost a year has passed since then and we're so excited to carry his first bottling. He's doing everything himself: harvesting wild fruit, trialing no spray practices in an old-growth orchard, and fermenting with little/no SO2 in a couple hundred square feet of warehouse space. It’s very small scale, with roughly 425 cases total production for 2019.The pear cider is absolutely delightful and is what we want to drink on the patio all summer long. The acid is present and lively without being overpowering. And the bubbles! They are soft and delicate; they don't just dissipate after five minutes open. Cider is what we've been craving recently as the weather warms up and we're hunting something to pair with dehydrated bike rides. And this one is perfect. Below, Patrick shares a little bit about his process, his background, and Virginia. It's a pretty fascinating read.
How did you get into cider? I’m drawn to cider primarily because pomme fruits are better adapted to where we are. If you go poke around the mountains and piedmont backroads, there’re seedling trees swarmed with vines and brambles that are still generally healthy and producing fruit. I fermented for other folks in Virginia for three years while I explored my own ideas in the cellar and researched sustainable growing practices (and drank as much natural wine as I could afford). 2019 is my first harvest on my own.
What makes Virginia unique for cider? Virginia has a deep history (on a colonial timeline) of apple cultivation, from homesteads to the post Civil War boom in production and exportation. While maybe not as directly relevant as the plots of Burgundian monks, there’s much to learn from the pre-industrial successes of these old orchards (it’s fun to read the decorous Gentlemen Farmer debates in agricultural society minutes on proper cover crop regimens). I’m working with the current landowner to revive and replant one of these 19th century sites in western Albemarle County, and found a few others to harvest from.
Within the world of cider, Virginia’s warm climate has not yet been fully explored. The austerity of cooler New York and New England gives way to more ample fruit down here. Most cidermakers inhibit malolactic and ferment in reductive environments, but I’m very curious about how to embrace the chin-dripping lushness of Virginia instead of fighting against it.
I also have to mention seedlings and their potential for novel expressions of place. The genetic variability of apples is such that each seed contains a new iteration of its bearing and pollen parents. Those that survive are uniquely attuned to their given place. A few are wonderfully tannic and acidic, perfect for cider.
Your feelings on RS in cider? RS in wine? I have no prescriptive opinion of RS, only that things must be in balance and come from the fruit. A key component of pears (and certain apples in warm years) is their sorbitol, so a key component of perry should be some sense of sweet.
I very much like the concept of ‘feinherb,’ that a ferment finds its own equilibrium point and may change year to year. I’ll stir to resuspend yeasts in as ferments slow with cooler weather, but if the microbiome of a given cider says “I’m good at 2 g/L,” and is stable, then that’s fine with me.