Apple bud phenology is a measure of time, one that doesn’t run parallel to the clock or calendar, an alternate dimension that most orchardists live in each spring from the moment the buds break dormancy to the final fruit set in mid-summer. These days, it’s too cliche to say “warmer than normal”, “earlier than normal”, because what is normal anymore anyway? This year some exceedingly warmer-than-normal weather in early April pushed apple bud phenology into warp speed and we watched helplessly as the trees pushed from silver tip to pink in a little over a week. Each day is still only so many hours long and we suddenly found ourselves behind with our work just as much as the trees were ahead– by all accounts about two and a half weeks.
Since we are on the topic of other-than-normal, for the first time in the 20 some odd years that I have been apple farming, our Newfield orchard is a week behind our Van Etten orchard. Newfield is situated in a lower elevation area, overlooking the Cayuga Inlet Valley. It accumulates more degree growing days over the season and gets less cold in the winter and spring…normally. I’ve included two photos of Golden Russet, taken on the same day- the North Orchard is in King Bloom (top) while the Newfield Orchard is in pink (bottom). I don’t have any profound conclusions to draw. Just a sense of disorientation. At the end of the day, our farming is about responding to what’s going on in the orchard so we look, listen, learn and stay on our toes.
We welcomed our 2023 farm interns just in time for the rush of spring farm work and they hit the ground running. The only thing better than having a kind, smart, interesting, overachiever of an intern is having two! Lo, who hails from Los Angeles by way of Brooklyn, found her way to the Finger Lakes through The People’s Medicine School, where she studied herbalism. Herbs led to farming which led to cider, and wine and Lo is finding synergy in the alchemy of the intersections of these disciplines. Julia is originally from Baltimore by way of New York City and winery internships around the world, eventually making her way to the Finger Lakes to start her own project, Usonia Wine. After living through several challenging growing seasons, Julia and her partner felt a sense of disillusionment with the chemically intensive efforts required to grow vinifera grapes and want to expand their repertoire to hybrid grapes and apples. We are looking forward to a season of cross pollination and learning from each other.
Speaking of grapes and apples and difficult seasons, we are releasing our first ever apple-grape coferment in a couple of weeks. What’s this you say? It’s a lovely coferment of our own Idared apples and spent Merlot and Cab Franc grape skins grown by friends in Hector, on Seneca Lake.
The combination of spring frost, drought and biennial bearing left us with a very small crop of apples last year and inspired us to get a little creative. The dearth of apples pushed us to think outside our own box and while we use Idareds to add aromatic punch to cider blends, they don’t stand on their own as a cider apple because they have very little structure. Since we had enough Idareds for a tank but nothing to blend them with, we reached out to Katie and Alex over at Damiani Winery for freshly pressed grape skins grown by my friend (and grape growing mentor) Phil Davis.
We mixed the native yeast fermented, freshly pressed skins at about a 50/50 ratio to juice by volume and were pleasantly surprised by how much color and tannin they still gave. (The skins contributed their molecules, but no appreciable volume, as they had been pressed dry of their juice in the wine-making process)
Aromas of ripe red raspberries and roses with a chalky finish and an overall gulpable quality. So fun to make something so delicious out of something that is essentially a wine by-product! Look for it to be released in mid-May. First to our club members (join here) in the Spring Shipment, and then on our website, and RSVP only tastings at the farm.
Thanks for reading and supporting our little organic orchard project. Send thoughts of warm days full of buzzing pollinating insects our way!
–Autumn (and the crew)