Like many young Washingtonians we discovered hard cider during visits to Canada where the drinking age is 19. While in college we discovered a small wine shop that imported French ciders, they were a revelation. That was the 70’s and we’ve toyed with the idea of making hard cider ever since. In 2001 we got serious and went to see how it was being done in the cider areas of England, France and Spain. The encouraging thing was that a lot of the production was done on very small scale, the discouraging thing was that we needed to plant a true cider apple orchard to make The type of cider we loved. We had always assumed we could use the bounty of apples here in Washington State.
Shortly after we returned home we heard that WSU was offering a class at Mt Vernon taught by English Cider master Peter Mitchell. We took advantage of that wonderful opportunity and as soon as the class was over placed an order for 900 French and English cider variety trees. We spent the next year clearing and preparing our land. In 2003 we planted our trees and in 2008 we had our first harvest.
Our orchard was certified organic in 2005 and in 2009 we were certified as organic processors. Alpenfire (Wildfire) was the first organic cidery in Washington State.
This year is our sixth year of production and our orchard delivered 18 bins of incredible apples full of tannins, acids and the complex flavors that we encountered in Europe.
We are open some weekends and by appointment for tours, tastings and special events.
We love to show people around the orchard which is fully trellised and cornered by mason bee houses. It is visited by an amazing variety of wildlife, ducks , raptors, eagles, heron, songbirds, deer, coyote, bobcat and quail, along with the less welcome rabbits and voles.
We are also happy to show our cidery and equipment. We have an Austrian chopper and press, several variable capacity tanks, oak barrels, pumps, sparging & bottling equipment. All the things that people who like to explore the working end of cider production will find interesting!
This spring we will once again be bottling our organic hard cider vinegar. This is made in the slow Orlean’s method, which means a surface fermentation in oak barrels. Modern vinegar is made in a matter of hours using submerged fermentation and oxygenation. In traditional methods the mother is allowed to float gently on the fermenting cider until the juice has gone fully acetic, which can take months. It is then further aged in oak casks.
Why Go Organic?
To us there is no option. The thought of using products that would potentially damage ourselves, our watersheds, the wildlife and everything we care about most is unimaginable. We prefer to work inside the limitations that organics impose, knowing that we are doing our part to create the kind of future we want for our family and planet.
Making cider with organically grown fruit assures us that we are not taking part in the tremendous overuse of synthetic fertilizers and herbicides happening around the world. The additional attention we are required to give to our orchard just keeps us in touch with all the amazing paths of nature out there each day.
Crafting a cider without the use of sulfite certainly has its challenges. Sulfite is an amazing tool for controlling the growth of unwanted yeasts and bacteria. Without the use of it we have to rely on extreme attention to the cleanliness of the fruit, the speed of processing, temperature control and most critically the idea that “air is the mortal enemy of cider”. Because we see cider as a drink meant to be enjoyed young, within a year or two of production, we feel this is possible. Because sulfite is an effective, inexpensive and readily available food additive it is terribly overused. We really enjoy making and drinking cider without that conflicting flavor and the potential for allergic reaction.
About Our Orchard
Wildfire’s (Alpenfire as of 2010) hard ciders begin their journey in an orchard certified organic in 2005. The first 800 trees were planted into a thin layer of glacial till top soil scraped into mounded rows. With native oyster shell and Eastern Washington lime the rows were adjusted for the extreme acidity of our Northwest forest land soil.
With over 150 posts milled from the orchard land the trees were planted in a 5/12 spacing and trellised to a 4 wire system. An essential 8’ fence keep the deer at bay.
The cider varieties we grow seem to thrive in the low nitrogen, bare bones soil of our orchard. To date we have seen almost no disease or insect damage. In ‘09 we harvested over 10,000 pounds of amazing bittersweet and bittersharp apples. The majority of the apples we grow are English (Dabinett, Foxwhelp, Yarlington Mill, Kingston Black, Brown Snout, etc.) or French (Vilberie, Muscadet de Dieppe) traditional cider apples. We have recently planted some early American Varieties and 5 types of Perry Pear trees.
The orchard is visited by an amazing assortment of wildlife from eagles, heron and owls to cougar and bobcats. All are kept well fed by an abundance of rabbits and voles. Over 1000 mason bee homes keep us assured of a fruitful harvest and a beautiful orchard full of songbirds and the hum of busy pollinators.
We look forward to seeing the richness of flavor in our cider, and the sustainable beauty and ecology in the orchard, that maturity will bring over the coming years. We hope you enjoy our ciders!