Just a short drive outside Portland, Oregon, the bustle of the city fades into the peaceful quiet of Sauvie Island, a beautiful agricultural and wildlife area rimmed by the Columbia River and the Multnomah Channel. When I drove there to visit Kristin and Rich Ford’s farm, thin banks of fog hovered low over the fields and clung to the fruit trees, from time to time exposing patches of bright blue sky beyond.
The first thing that caught my eye when I arrived at the 25-acre farm was the long, neat rows of handsome apple trees. But upon closer inspection, I saw that these trees didn’t bear the plump, shiny, perfect apples we see at the market. Instead, they were small, ugly, and gnarled, with obscure names like Brown Snout and Foxwhelp, and so bitter they were practically inedible. It’s heirloom varieties like these, says Kristin, that make the best cider apples, because they have more tannins and higher acidity than sweet eating apples. When she and Rich bought this piece of land in 1992, they wanted to turn it into a winery. They quickly discovered that the soil was ill suited for a vineyard, but it was perfect for apple orchards. Hard cider seemed a natural choice.
Ten years in the making
Kristin spent months researching rare apple varieties traditionally used for cider making in France and England. Then she and Rich worked for years to develop a blend that balanced the apples’ sweet, bitter, and sharp flavors. In 2001, the first vintage of their Ford Farms Cyderworks Oregon Dry Sparkling Hard Cider, made from nearly 30 varieties grown on their orchard, was finally ready.
The Fords pick their apples by hand each fall. They wash and press the apples at the peak of ripeness and freeze the juice until all the fruit has been pressed. Rich, who handles the cider making with the zeal and earnestness of a winemaker, explained that he ferments the blend in stainless-steel tanks first. Then, using the traditional French method, he bottles the cider, adding yeast and sugar. This initiates a second fermentation, which produces natural carbonation with bubbles similar to Champagne’s. The result is an utterly enjoyable sparkler that’s light years from commercial hard ciders. Dry and crisp with just a little tartness, it’s excellent with cheese, seafood, and chicken.
The Fords bottle only about 1,000 cases of their bubbly each harvest. They distribute it exclusively to stores and restaurants around Portland. For more information or to mail order, visit www.cyderworks.com.