Our History of Cider

Our History of Cider image

By Darlene Hayes

If you've ever been to the de Young Museum in San Francisco's Golden Gate Park, you may have noticed a dark bronze statue out in front depicting a man cranking on a fruit press. You would be forgiven for assuming this well muscled fellow is pressing grapes, given Northern California's long history with and current renown for wine production, but if you look a little more closely you'll see that it isn't grapes around the base of the press, but apples. Made for the 1894 San Francisco Midwinter International Exposition, this impressive piece of art is a reminder that early Northern Californians were also fans of cider–and not just the sweet stuff pressed and served straight from the orchard–but also the hard, fermented kind. 

Late-19th and early-20th century local papers team with ads for cider presses and fancy eastern champagne-style cider imports, and companies such as the Eastern Cider Company and Martinelli's did a brisk business. Sebastopol's own Speas Manufacturing and Distillery made and sold apple brandy and apple wine into the mid-20th century. But times and tastes change, so though there were occasional glimmers of life, such as Hatch Cider made by William Hatch from his estate-grown Gravensteins and Johnathans in the early 1980s, by the latter part of the 20th century the market had declared cider made in Northern California largely defunct.

Fast forward to today and one will discover that like a phoenix rising from the ashes, the last decade has seen a burst of new companies ready to bring their ciders to an ever increasing and enthusiastic public. The pioneer was the California Cider Company, now in it's 23rd year. Since 2011, however, this venerable producer has been joined by no fewer than 12 new dedicated cideries in Sonoma, Mendocino, and Marin counties as well as six wineries that have added a cider to their offerings. 

This uptick in cider production has been a boon for apple growers as these new businesses source local apples for at least some, if not all, of the ciders they make. One local farmer, Mike Myer, Jr., has reported putting in a new 1,000-tree orchard this year specifically because of the renewed market for hard cider, reversing a decades-long trend of replacing apple orchards with some other crop and taking a step toward increasing and preserving Sonoma County's agricultural biodiversity. 

The Gravenstein Apple Fair has long welcomed cider, and in recent years created a dedicated Craft Cider Tent, sponsored this year by local cider-supporter Oliver's Market, now employee owned, where fair-goers can discover the incredible range of possibilities made from apples and yeast. Newcomers to the Tent this year are Gravitude (Ethic Ciders), Sur la Mer (Drew Winery), and Eye Cider (Radio-Coteau Winery).

To celebrate this year's theme “In Praise of Pollinators", Tilted Shed Ciderworks has made a limited run of Gravenstein single varietal cider bottle conditioned with a dossage of honey from local producer Monte-Bellaria di California. This cider will be served in the Craft Cider Tent and Artisan Tasting Lounge at the fair on August 12 & 13, and also available at Andy's Market until it sells out!

Also on hand will be ciders from Sonoma Cider, Horse & Plow, Duttin Estate Cider, Gowan Heirloom Cider, 101 Ciderhouse, Ace Cider, Wind Gap Winery, Apple-Garden Farm, Specific Gravity/Nana Mae's, Golden State/Devoto Cider, Troy Cider, Waterhouse Cider, and Coturri Winery.  

Get your tickets for the 2017 Gravenstein Apple Fair online now: https://gravapple.eventbrite.com