Virginia is already making a name for itself when it comes to wine — and if Albemarle CiderWorks has its way — the Commonwealth will soon become just as popular for its craft ciders.
This weekend, the family-owned and operated orchard and cidery in Albemarle County (a short drive from Charlottesville) will be celebrating its 4th anniversary with a two-day party you are invited to attend.
The Shelton family took a break from preparations to chat with Very Best of Virginia about the major milestone for the company, their specialty ciders and several exciting new projects currently in the works.
What prompted your family to get into the cider business?
We started planting apples as a hobby. In the 1990s we began planting a number of increasingly hard-to-find apple cultivars, with the guidance of Tom Burford, nationally renowned orchardist and a family friend. We liked the richness and variety of flavors available in many of the heirloom varieties, and realizing that many had been grown for cider led us to seek out varieties especially suitable for cidermaking, although these varieties are often unappealing for eating fresh. Many cider-specific apples have flavors that are best appreciated after fermentation, much like wine grapes. As our collection grew (we now have some 250 varieties of apples), it appeared sensible to start using these apples for their original purpose—drinking.
What makes your cider unique?
What sets it apart is the careful selection of the apples we use. It’s really part science, part art. We crush and press the apples, strain the juice into stainless steel tanks, ferment it with a white wine yeast, carbonate and bottle- that’s the science. The art comes before and after-deciding which apples to use, which to blend and which to keep separate for single varietal bottlings, what the flavor profile should be. We offer a range of blends and single varietals, from dry to sweet, which on the whole tend toward a very clean and crisp taste profile, highlighting the natural flavors of the special apples growing here.
It’s been four years since you sold your first bottle of cider. How has your business grown?
We opened the tasting room four years ago with three different ciders on offer; that number has now grown to five, and will expand to seven in the next month or so. We have continued to experiment with different blends, and with new single varietals that hold promise. The cider industry is also growing rapidly. In 2009 we were only the second cidery in Virginia; four years later we find ourselves part of a community of 8 cideries and growing. We are heavily involved in encouraging our Virginian colleagues and active on the national level as well. We are finding that interest in our ciders lead to other business ventures. Just as our Vintage Virginia Apples led us into the specialty nursery business, our ciders are prompting us to do other things such as hosting events at our tasting room, offering workshops and who knows what may yet develop.
What can people expect if they come to visit the orchard and tasting room?
Albemarle CiderWorks offers a tasting room that one patron described as the epitome of elegant rusticity. Our staff is schooled in the lore of cider and its roots in our history. Though it was once America’s libation of choice, our visitors are often discovering “proper” cider for the first time. Cider is legally a fruit wine in this country, but cider is to apples what wine is to grapes.
It is a unique and special libation, food friendly and a delightful aperitif on its own. Our ciders are crafted from the apples that grow here and in nearby orchards. Our food offerings are also sourced locally from the best craftsmen we can find. We feature Caromont Farm cheeses, Albemarle Baking Company bread, Jam According to Daniel (often crafted from our fruit), Cville Chocolate and other food offerings for a la carte picnics that pair well with our ciders. In addition to an exceptionally educational tasting experience, we offer our patio and lawn for relaxation and games, and live music many weekends.
The big anniversary party is next weekend — how excited are you to celebrate 4 years with your customers?
We couldn’t be happier to share this milestone with our customers — after all, they’re the ones giving us great feedback on what they like, what foods make the best pairings, and sharing family stories about apples and cider. We are excited to have a live band playing each day, and to have both Carpe Donut and Greenies whipping up local treats using our tree-ripened peaches. It will also be wonderful to have our supporters with us to ring in the start of our 5th year!
Are there any other upcoming events Very Best of Virginia readers should know about?
Yes! First, there are two new cider releases on the horizon, so be on the lookout for those. And there are two other upcoming events that we’re really excited about: the Hamner Theater’s presentation of Shakespeare’s “As You Like It”, and our annual Harvest Festival. We’ll host “As You Like It” September 27th and 28th and our annual Harvest Festival is always the first Saturday in November.
We also host workshops and live music events on many weekends; for details on these and other upcoming events…