Tuesday, August 16, 2016

My Fantastic Vermont Cider Tour: Day 1 (Starting with New Hampshire)

I know my trip is Vermont trip, but it starts with a significant stop in New Hampshire. After breakfast with family at the Fairlee Diner and a quick stop in Hanover, we were off to the legendary Farnum Hill at Poverty Lane Orchards, where we were greeted by the cider dogs Crosby, Marianne, and Newton—and of course, by Steve Wood and Nicole LeiBon.  Nicole took us on a pleasantly casual but deeply educational tour of Farnum Hill's complex. She's famous within the cider world as, "the nose" for her fabulous sensory abilities and her passion for blending great ciders.  

One of the ways that Farnum Hill has communicated with fans this year has been the #OrchardYear project.  Every Wednesday they post an Instagram photo of what's going on at the cidery that week.  Mid August is clearly preparation for apple harvest: dozens of bins are left to dry in the sun before they're needed, and it reminds me of just how many apples go into those lovely bottles.  

Farnum Hill harvests entirely by hand and press small batches on-site.  According to founder Steve Wood, The orchard, dating to the early 1960s, is as important to them as their cider. He says, "The two are inseparable."  

We explored two holy barrel rooms and sampled (with a pipette!) some of the perry and the semi-dry. These barrels sit stacked high to the ceiling; some are twenty years old, and neutral in flavor, "save for an occasional hint of vanilla," according to LeiBon. 

Our conversation ranged broadly but centered on the current state of the cider world until Steve gave us a tromp through his orchards.  Steve Wood has been working with these trees since he was eleven years old, "and if that doesn't blow your mind, it should."

The public face of Poverty Lane Orchards is the grove of U-pick McIntosh and Cortland apples, but behind it are the Wickson, Spitzenberg, Golden Russet, and Dabinett apples that made Farnum Hill unique.  The trees are old and widely spaced; beneath each grows tall grass that cushions the apples' fall.  I was reminded of England and its cider heritage. These trees are grown deliberately for their results and not for their aesthetics. 

I could have chewed the fat with these two all day, but it's a working farm, and I had miles to go.  Specifically, our next stop was Fable Farms in Barnard, a cooperative so new that their cider is really only found at the local farmer's market and a few high-end restaurants.  But if their gorgeous production barn (modeled after a 1745 building) and lofty ambitions are any indication, you may be hearing more about them.  

Christopher Piana looks the young rural prophet and speaks much the same: his vision of cider is foraged apples, wild fermented, and creatively combined with other local fruits, botanicals, and honeys. Fable Farms is unabashedly ecological and esoteric in their craft, which was invigorating and inspiring.  

"There are no boundaries to cider and what it could and should be," says Christopher.  Similarly cidermaker Johnny explains that in pressing 3500 gallons from apples all hand-foraged within an eight-mile radius, Fable has begun to think of terroir as more than merely the ground, but the broader context and origin story of a cider.  

We tried four bottles by Fable and were thrilled to buy and take home a few with us.  Their strengths lay in their high tannins, strong acid, and a unique combination of the better elements from both English and Basque traditions.  Expect reviews in the coming months.

We then switched things up with a brief but absurdly delicious visit to the Vermont Creamery.  Oh goodness, that butter, that cheese.  Or as our server's t-shirt declared, "Chèvre Forèvre." I'll stand by that.

Finally, we drove to the buzzing tourist destination of Stowe, where Stowe Cider has just opened their new tasting room.  There we met with Nikki, a longtime fan of the blog and the tasting room manager for the company.  Hi Nikki!

Nikki let us try all five ciders on tap, and we walked out having purchased an armload more.  Among our favorites from Stowe Cider were their Smuggler's Bourbon (a very drinkable winter cider with good notes of maple and a little tannin) and their surprising Snow's Raspberry (sweet, yes, but so much basil!).  

Stowe Cider has a really clean finish and look (thanks in part to their cross-flow filtering), and their plans to expand their reach into New Hampshire will surely excite our Granite State readers.  I got a great vibe from Nikki's energy and from the thematics that Stowe is going for, and the elegant balance they strike between local ingredients, modern methods, and accessibility.  

That's all for the cider today!  I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the completely amazing dinner we had at Plate in Stowe.  Ho. Ly. Cow.  Forward-thinking and delicious, with lots of creative vegetarian options.  Paradise on a platter.  Tomorrow, we're off to Citizen, Shacksbury, and Champlain.

Here's the link to Day 2:https://alongcameacider.blogspot.com/2016/08/the-great-vermont-cider-tour-day-2.html