Iconic Fruit

Gravenstein Apple Fair celebrates the grape's predecessor—with plenty of pies

Sebastopol’s Gravenstein Apple Fair turns 42 this year, rolling into Ragle Ranch Park Aug. 8–9 to celebrate all things apple, with entertainment, education and lots to eat and drink.

“This is truly an agricultural fair,” says Carmen Snyder, Sonoma County Farm Trails executive director. “There’s a focus on the farmers, on keeping ag alive and keeping farms forever in Sonoma County.”

The fair is Farm Trails’ annual fundraising event, and it helps instill an appreciation of local farms as a vital part of the community. Sebastopol used to be the apple capital of California. The area’s morning fog and afternoon sun create the perfect environment to grow the Gravenstein. Orchards of the apple used to dominate the view from Gravenstein Highway before winegrapes swept through.

Lately, the Gravenstein apple has made a comeback, by being put to the same use that’s made the grape so profitable: booze. Snyder remembers that the fair had only one craft cider producer in 2012; this year, the fair is hosting eight local producers.

“Hard cider is having a tremendous revival,” Snyder says, “and with that, there are more plantings of apple trees [in Sonoma County], which is exciting to us.” (See cover story, page 17.)

Snyder also attributes the Gravenstein’s recent success to Slow Food USA’s “Ark of Taste” catalogue of endangered foods, which added the “Sebastopol Gravenstein apple” to its list in 2005. The campaign brings national awareness to heritage foods that are distinct to their region, and helps preserve their production.

“It’s an icon of our area,” says Snyder. “It’s a really versatile and wonderful apple, but the drawback is it has a short season and it doesn’t ship well.”

The rub for the Gravenstein is its quick harvest, and even quicker ripening, meaning it’s going to remain very particular to here and now. It’s no coincidence that the Apple Fair is the place to get the freshest apples and apple treats, like pies.

The weekend-long celebration includes great live music alternating between two stages on both days, with headliners Poor Man’s Whiskey and the Easy Leaves, along with Onye & the Messengers and the BluesBox Bayou Band.

Debuting last year and refined this year, the fair also has an artisan cheese lounge that offers curated pairings of local cheese and apples, with a chance to meet the makers, for an additional fee.

Also on hand is the “do-it-yourself arena,” where crafts experts share skills and guide participants through homesteading activities. Harmony Farm Supply will be there too, with tips for harvesting and gardening in a drought.

Also look for talks with farmers and chefs, baking and eating contests, and plenty to keep the kids busy, making the fair ideal for the whole family.