We knew, given our light crop in 2020, that the spring might bring a heavy bloom. We didn't expect the bloom we saw though, because it was like nothing we had ever seen. Trees so covered in blossoms that they looked like white clouds. It wasn't just the apples though...all over our hillside it was as if someone, something, had dusted the trees with fertility magic -- Shagbark Hickory, Choke Cherry, June Berry -- dripping with bloom. Despite a few frosts, the trees set a heavy crop and we set our sights on harvest and got to work. Then it started raining. And didn't stop. Well, that's not true. Unlike 2018, which was cold and wet with very little sunshine, 2021 had plenty of heat and sun and rainbows in between the rain.
Nevertheless, by August we had received over 70 inches of rain. The large crop of apples kept getting bigger and bigger and the moist soil kept getting softer and softer and the heavy thunderstorms with gusty winds didn't let up. Just about at the point where we started to get really nervous, some trees on our steep Albee Hill orchard started to lean with the pull of gravity and lacking an anchor with the soil too soft to hold them. One day, a trellis with a rotten post suddenly snapped under the weight and 30 trees fell over. We jumped into crisis mode, propping up 20 year old trees leaning with the weight of hundreds of pounds of fruit and rebuilt the entire brace system for our trellised orchard. We also dropped dozens of bushels out of the tops of trees and then crossed our fingers and held our breath.
But not for long. Harvest started a solid 2 weeks early with the Ellis Bitter dropping like crazy in the intense, steamy heat of mid-August. We panicked. The brix was low -- 11 -- and the fruit was not holding up well on the ground. We made the decision to pick everything that had dropped in the hopes that what was on the tree would be better quality. We pressed 600 bushels of bittersweets, spontaneously fermented them with wild yeast, and sent them straight to the distiller for a future Pommeau.
This proved to be a good decision. The rain let up a little, the air cooled and the sun came out. Despite intense fungal pressure throughout the growing season, our organic management program proved effective and the trees continued to photosynthesize with healthy leaves pumping sugar into ripening fruit. As the later varieties ripened, the fruit quality just kept getting better and better.
The harvest season started in mid-August and today, as I write, we have started our last 4 days of pressing for the year (we'll press 1,000 bushels of apples this week). The crop was by far the largest we have ever grown. The past 90 days have been intense and very hard, but hard in a good, satisfying way. I tell our team that they are the A team, each one a true professional, and we made it all happen with out drama (even though we had some long days and late nights).
We are excited about the potential of the '21 ciders. For the first time ever, we were able to ferment single varietal Kingston Black from 3 distinct orchard locations. We have many other barrels of single varietals and several other exciting projects in the works. The barn is stuffed to over-flowing with bubbling barrels and tanks, kinetic and full of potential.
From the orchard to the press deck to the barrels to your table. We are grateful for the chance to keep the cider flowing. Happy Fall to you and yours!
-Autumn Stoscheck 11/15/21