As I write this in the last week of October, we have finished picking and are now turning to pressing the last batch of apples waiting in the barn. It's a good thing too, because the glorious harvest weather has turned-- a cold steady rain is falling and there is a heavy freeze moving in.
It's a good moment to reflect on the growing season, which on many accounts has been very good for apples. In what seems to be the new normal, erratic spring thaw and freeze weather resulted in some crop loss due to very cold temperatures during bloom. This lead to a light crop in our biennial orchards and wild groves that were in their 'off year'. In our "on year" trees, it resulted in a near perfect fruit set.
All in all, the 2020 growing season was warm, dry and very sunny. By July, much of the region was in a drought and stayed that way until only just recently when it finally started raining again. Bigger trees with deeper root systems were less stressed than smaller and young trees. Some of the stress was mitigated by the fact that there was very little disease pressure due to the lack of humidity--so lots of green, healthy, blemish free leaves photosynthesizing like crazy.
Another feature of the season that ultimately affects the 2020 pommage, is the biennial nature of bittersweet apples and wild unmanaged fruit. In 2016, a killing frost wiped out much of the apple crop across our region and "synced" much of the biennialism to an even/odd year pattern. Although the trees are slowing coming out of sync, they are still mostly on the same schedule. This being an even year, we saw a light crop of wild apples in our favorite groves. We also saw a very light year in our organically managed Albee Hill orchard. This is where most of our bittersweet varieties are planted. Yet with all this, there was plenty of fruit to be found. Wild pears it seems have not succumbed to the this pattern and we found glorious basket loads of glowing droupes in hills and valleys around our farm. Our Newfield orchard was in an on year and the Northern Spies produced a stunning crop as did our favorite high acid blending apple, Krys.
The fall was beautiful, clear, and crisp. The warm sunny days were followed by cold nights. Each morning the cool air rolled off the hill tops into the valley, creating a river of mist. Cool, sunny weather during ripening results in the high acidity in fruit that the Finger Lakes region is known for.
How did all of the aspects of the season affect the cider apple quality? This year saw lower over all yields due to spring freezes, very high brix from lots of sunshine and a heavy drought complemented by lots of Finger Lakes acidity, lower juice yields from very dry fruit and a balance of varieties that skews heavy to pears, and high acid apples. Over all, the quality looks to be stunning.
Like it has been for many, 2020 has challenged us physically, emotionally and spiritually. We mourned the loss of restaurants and then of loved ones. We learned to wear masks all day long, and to enjoy our friends and family from a distance. We grew a mustache and shaved our head.
Amidst the sadness, isolation and struggle, we were acutely reminded of how important conviviality is for human beings and human culture and the role that cider can play in bringing us together in this way. So we dive into yet another season of cider making with this thought in mind. Our work is to bring joy to the table, a place where we share our food, our cultures, our ideas and our love, a place that represents some of the best of humanity.
Thanks for reading.
-Autumn, Ezra, James, the intern, the kids and the dogs