By Julie McCormick
For Peninsula Daily News
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phone numbers and hours for cideries in East Jefferson County.
• Eaglemount Wine and Cider;
2350 Eaglemount Road; Port Townsend, WA 98368; 360-732-4084; tasting room open from noon to 6 p.m. Friday through Sunday.
• Finnriver Farm;
69 Barn Swallow Road; Chimacum, WA 98325; 360-732-6822; tasting room open from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. Friday through Sunday.
• Wildfire Cider;
220 Pocket Lane; Port Townsend, WA 98368. For tasting hours, phone 360-379-8915.
Or it may be filling a niche no one knew was there.
Either way, cideries are proliferating in East Jefferson County, where three of the 11 members of the newly formed Northwest Cider Association are located, the oldest only four years from first offering.
That's no accident, said Steve "Bear" Bishop, who, just a few weeks ago, harvested this year's first crop of apples for Wildfire Cider's first run since it became the state's first certified organic cidery last year.
Best area for cider apples
The Pacific Northwest maritime climate is the best for true cider apples, Bishop said, a fact confirmed in a recent study by Washington State University, which said that the good eating crops do best on the other side of the Cascades.
Hard cider is not like the unfiltered apple juice found on grocery shelves.
For one thing, it's almost always dry, not sweet. And it doesn't all taste the same.
Hard cider, which is sometimes also made with special cider pears and called perry cider, doesn't have the complexity of fine wine and is best drunk young.
But artisan producers wise to the discriminating tastes of a public prepared to pay between $13 and $30 for a bottle of cider try to make the experience as intriguing, challenging and satisfying as they can.
Some is made like champagne and tastes just as refined.
Sometimes hard cider is specially flavored with berries, and all are made to reflect the special character of the apples used to make it.
Finnriver Farm in Chimacum will soon include three new apple-based cordials and plans to distill a high-alcohol product for apple brandy and dessert wine within the next several months.
"This year's production will have about 10 to 14 products as opposed to the four we had last year," said Keith Kisler, who runs the farm with his wife, Crystie, and their business partner, Eric Jorgensen.
The Kislers started the organically certified farm in 2004 with another couple, following Keith's dream to continue in his Eastern Washington farm family's tradition.
They produce a wide variety of crops, meat, eggs and flour sold throughout the Puget Sound region, but last season's first cider offering of 1,000 cases sold out and accounted for half the farm's business, Kisler said.
Each of the three cideries began in different ways, and each produces its own distinct products.
"We're all different from each other, which I think is an unintentional thing that happened," Kisler said.
Just down the main road from Finnriver, following a turnoff, Jim and Trudy Davis started selling some award-winning reds made with Eastern Washington grapes at Eaglemount Wine and Cider in 2006.
The next year, they were also putting out hard ciders made from the heirloom apples at their 1883 homestead as well as neighboring orchards and some from Eastern Washington.
They aren't organically certified, but "everything is unsprayed," Jim said.
Use of the common preservative sulfite is kept to a bare minimum, only to keep the apples free of bacteria as they make their way from water bath to chop to press to juice.
It doesn't sound like an easy process, turning an old farm into the kind of mass-production, big-shop industry that commercial wineries and cideries must be.
The rustic wooden cider presses of old gave way long ago to big machines and multiple giant stainless-steel holding tanks.
Jim, a former longshoreman from Longview, designs everything that's built to house and accommodate his business on his computer, then builds it.
Trudy, who still helps out her former employer Hoodsport Winery, is the chemist, watching and testing and moderating as each batch matures.
At harvest, everyone pitches in. Last season resulted in 400 cases each of wine and cider, but so far, only the wine is paying its own way.
But cider makes sense and just came naturally, Jim said.
"All those apples laying on the ground," he grinned and shrugged.
"Trudy's a real gleaner."
Nancy and Steve Bishop didn't slip into the cider business. They intended to do it from the beginning, after some side roads along the way.
High school sweethearts who majored in organic agriculture at The Evergreen State College, the Bishops left behind quite divergent careers -- he was a wildland firefighter and firefighting contractor; she made canvas accessories for boats -- after years of amateur cider appreciation that started in their youth.
A trip to cider-producing regions of Europe sold the Bishops on the possibilities back home.
In 2003, they imported and planted hundreds of trees of English, French and Spanish varieties and trellised them next to their home near Beckett Point outside Port Townsend.
"Cider apples are bitter sweets and bitter sharps," Nancy said.
The first good crop came in 2009 and production still includes some backup varieties from a Lake Chelan orchard. Last season's result was 480 cases.
The Bishops are organic cider pioneers, one of only a few certified producers in the country.
"We're teaching the USDA [U.S. Department of Agriculture] and WSU how to make organic cider," Steve boasted.
It's been a troublesome year for organic growers here, and apple crops also suffered from a late wet spring as well as last winter's unpredictable frosts.
But the Bishops have an additional worry in only their third year of production.
A national chain restaurant with the same name has forced them to abandon the name "Wildfire."
Soon: Alpenfire Cider
They will soon be Alpenfire Cider and they're still negotiating an agreement that won't demand they pull their Wildfire product from shelves.
In the future, the Bishops would like to make specialty vinegar, and Steve has visions of offering portable distillery services to other local growers.
Home brewing and home winemaking have long been part of Americans' do-it-yourself culture. But cider making has a unique quality, Nancy said.
"The special thing is that you can grow it in your backyard," she said.
Julie McCormick is a freelance writer and photographer living in Port Townsend. Contact her at 360-385-4645 or firstname.lastname@example.org.