Sonoma and Marin’s cider scene
If you haven’t yet been bitten by the craft cider bug, I hope I can convince you to get out there and try some of the excellent local craft ciders being brewed up by our local cideries.
As a longtime wine industry veteran and wine lover/aficionado, I started developing a love for—or obsession with—craft cider a little over a decade ago when I found myself sipping on a crisp, dry cider I don’t remember the name of at a bar I also don’t remember the name of, in San Francisco. As a non-beer drinker, I had been mostly relegated to drinking cocktails or expensive glasses of wine when I was out and about at upscale or trendy bars, pubs or taprooms. But once dry craft ciders made an entrance into the West Coast craft beverage scene, we celiacs and non-beer drinkers suddenly had a lower-alcohol, more casual beverage option. Something we could drink out of a pint or bottle, like our craft beer drinking friends.
Since that time, cider has continued to evolve with more and more craft cideries and cider brands starting up every year and the quality of craft cider sky rocketing over the past decade. You can now find a craft cider to suit any palate-from funky, stinky or sour ciders to clean, crisp, elegant and wine-like ciders, to slightly sweet or co-fermented fruit-infused ciders. And, in response to the increasing quality and diversity—as well as to the fact cider is naturally gluten free—more and more beer and wine drinkers are embracing the beverage.
In California alone, we have 80-plus cideries, and a good percent of them are located right here in our own backyard, in Sonoma County. For good reason. We are and always have been—at least since the 1800s—an apple-growing region.
Are there challenges involved in growing and selling apples or making cider from locally grown apples in a region where grapes reign supreme and command a much higher price per ton and labor costs are sky high? Yes. Which means some of our local cideries have to go elsewhere to source the fruit they need to produce the amount of cider they need to produce to meet demand while also keeping costs down.
At the same time, we’re also starting to see a budding evolution in the use of apples in co-fermentations—with wine—and the planting of more apple orchards seemingly in response to the new problems facing grape farmers and vineyards in Sonoma County in the form of the devastating wildfires that have wreaked havoc on grape crops during the past few years. Something I heard from more than one cider-making winemaker or winery owner this year was “smoke taint doesn’t affect apples.”
This is all to say that apples are making a real comeback, maybe in a bigger way than we even imagined, and that’s in no small part thanks to some of our local cideries and apple advocates.
Good #$%* is happening here in the North Bay. Get out and taste it. Oh, and thinking ahead … did I mention that craft cider makes an excellent addition to a Thanksgiving dinner table? Think: cider + turkey = match made in heaven.
Ace Cider Pub
The original OC—like original OG but with C for cidery … get it?—of Sonoma County cider, Ace is still going strong after almost three decades in business. 2019 and 2020 brought more tropical-themed inspiration in the form of their new pineapple, guava and mango ciders which have met such success country-wide that owner Jeffrey House and his sons, who co-lead the company, plan to keep unveiling new flavors.
Visit Ace’s taproom Fridays 1–3pm to grab a pint, do a tasting flight or fill up your growler.
Ace Cider Pub, 2064 Gravenstein Hwy N #40, Sebastopol. 707.829.1101. www.acecider.com
Applegarden Farm & Cidery
Located just minutes from Tomales, Applegarden Farm opens its gates to the public Saturdays and Sundays from 11am to 4pm. Visitors can purchase their farmstead ciders—ask for a taste if you haven’t tried them yet—here directly from owner/cidermaker Jan Lee or her husband Louis. What’s changed for Applegarden over the past couple of years? They’ve seen an increase in demand for their ciders—they are up to about 400–500 case production currently—as well as from people, especially those coming from the city, who want to get outdoors more often.
Note: if it’s apple season and there are apples hanging on the trees, Jan and Louis will usually let visitors pick some to take with them.
Applegarden Farm & Cidery, 3875 Tomales Petaluma Rd., Tomales. 707.878.9152. www.applegardencottage.com
Goat Rock Cider
Trevor Zebulon, of Goat Rock Cider, had to shut down his travel tour business in 2020 thanks to Covid-19 wiping out tourism, but in doing so was able to focus fully on Goat Rock Cider. His work paid off.
Goat Rock Cider upped its production in 2020, expanded their distribution around the state, took home a Good Food Award for their rosé cider and opened up a new production plant in Petaluma where they now offer tastings by appointment.
Goat Rock Cider, 1364 N. McDowell Blvd., Petaluma. 707.409.0738. www.goatrockcider.com
Golden State Cider Taproom
Over at Golden State, things were moved 100% outdoors over the past 18 months until recently when a few tables were moved back inside to start preparing for chillier weather and indoor tastings. New developments at Golden State include the soon-to-be-seen-on-menus apple brandy-cider cocktails made with their Devoto Farms’ apples and a new farm series cider flight featuring ciders that can only be found at the taproom.
Golden State Cider Taproom, 180 Morris St. #150, Sebastopol. 707.827.3765. www.drinkgoldenstate.com
Horse and Plow Winery and Cidery
Horse and Plow now offers tasting flights of both wine and cider again—they only had full glasses or bottles available during Covid. They’re also hosting Live Music Sundays and art receptions again.
Current limited-release cider on tap at the tasting room: Ashmead’s Kernel.
Horse and Plow Winery and Cidery, 1272 Gravenstein Highway N., Sebastopol. 707.827.3486. www.horseandplow.com
Dutton Estate Winery
Thanks to overwhelming demand from their customers, Dutton Estate tripled their cider production in 2021. They also moved their farmstead cider from bottles into cans in 2020 and recently started distributing their ciders for the first time to businesses—mostly in the North Bay. For a family that comes from an apple farming background, the success of Dutton’s cider shouldn’t be a surprise, but it’s been great fun to watch their evolution over the past few years from a family-run winery with apple-grower roots to a winery and cidery, using the apples they farm on their property. They even have a Core Cider Club!
Dutton Estate Winery, 8757 Green Valley Rd, Sebastopol. 707.829.9463. www.duttonestate.com
Ethic Cider has been super busy during the past couple of years, and are even more excited about their plans moving forward. From bringing on veteran cider maker Dwight Harrington in the summer of 2019 to moving some of their bottled ciders into cans, releasing their first Pommeau and taking home a 2021 Good Food Award, these guys are rocking it. What’s next? Ethic is working on a co-fermentation with a local winery, experimenting with an oaked cider and working on plans to open up a Sonoma County tasting room in early 2022.
You can purchase Ethic Ciders at many local businesses, or place an order online via their website for pick up or delivery at www.ethicciders.com.
Old World Winery/Trowbridge Cider
2020 brought smoke and fires that cost wineries a lot of grapes. Some winemakers, like Darek Trowbridge, who work with both grapes and apples, realized that investing further in apples and cider was going to be a good idea and started looking for places to plant more apples and/or do co-fermentations with cider and wine. The results have been delicious so far. Pick up a bottle of Old World Winery’s lambrusco-style sparkling Abourio fermented with apples next time you’re in the area—and while you’re there, why not do a wine- and cider-tasting?
2021 also prompted a move to a smaller bottle and a new label design for the winery’s farmstead sparkling cider. The new label features a hummingbird in homage to the farm’s thriving hummingbird garden.
Old World Winery/Trowbridge Cider, 850 River Rd., Fulton. 707.490.6696. www.oldworldwinery.com
Radio Coteau/Eye Cyder
Did you know that Radio Coteau winery also produces some damn good cider made from 100% Sonoma County dry-farmed apples? All of EyeCyder’s farmstead ciders are fermented using native yeasts, are unfiltered and are bone dry—even the fruit-infused ciders like their Brambleberry—a wild blackberry-infused Gravenstein apple cider—and Plum—co-fermented with Satsuma plums—ciders. Production and staff are limited, so please send an email to request a cider-tasting appointment to [email protected]. www.radiocoteau.com
As always, lots of new stuff has been happening at Tilted Shed.
Firstly, the cidery has opened up a new—and adorable—cider bar/tasting room. So guests can now opt for either an outdoor tasting or an indoor tasting, and choose from tables and chairs or simply belly up at the bar.
The cidery also continues to keep things fresh, coming up with new ciders and new nifty, unique cider labels seemingly every month, while still maintaining a focus on giving back by donating percentages of certain ciders’ proceeds to different nonprofits each year.
Co-owner and co-cidermaker Ellen has also been experimenting more with macerating local fruit with vinegar to make shrub—an apple cider vinegar drink mixer—”cocktails” which she mixes with cider and sparkling water to make fun, flavorful low-alcohol spritzes.
Tilted Shed, 7761 Bell Rd., Windsor. 707.657.7796. www.tiltedshed.com