Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Sonoma Cider: Apple Outfit Thrives in Wine Country

Robert (left) and his father David (right). Photo: Sonoma Cider.
Sonoma is full of beautifully diverse wine country. Whenever I’m there, I pack my days with wine tasting (although I always try to start the day with some Sonoma Coast surfing). But if your palate is a little fatigued from tasting all those delicious Russian River Pinots, why not sip some local cider? After two days of sampling a bunch of rich Napa Cabernets, I came over the mountain into Sonoma to taste the crisp, dry, refreshing offerings from Sonoma Cider. I have to say: this stuff hit the goddamn spot.

Sonoma Cider is the father-son operation of David and Robert Cordtz. David worked as a winemaker for 20 years before kicking off the cidery. Robert brings an educated palate and an explorative attitude to the venture and, like a craft brewer, he spices things up with a selection of clever and unique ingredients. Sonoma Cider kegged their first releases in November of 2013, and they now host a small tasting room at the cidery, which is located in a former auto parts store. Their apple-dominated lineup is now available in 28 states.

For years, David wanted to explore the rich orchard fruit in Sonoma County under his own label, but languishing cider sales discouraged him. In 2012, he said, things started changing quickly. The cider boom had arrived. “I watched it come to life after 25 years of single-digit growth,” he told me at a tasting in late October. David credits thirsty millenials with the rise in demand for craft cider. Today,
California boasts 55 cider producers.

I’m not a huge cider nerd by any means. When I do drink cider, I tend toward the high-acid, funky, Basque Country style, and I steer well clear of anything with much residual sugar. If you think all domestic cider is sugary stuff, you may be surprised by Sonoma’s fresh take on a classic beverage.

Sonoma County has long been home to many apple orchards, and Sonoma Cider is taking advantage of this local bounty (in addition to sourcing apples from Washington State). All the fruit that goes into Sonoma Cider is organically certified, and David maintains this contributes to a more expressive flavor profile. And for the purists: Sonoma’s juice contains no added sulfites, concentrates or preservatives.

David is always on the lookout for local organic fruit to press, and he said he’s planning an old-fashioned flyer-posting campaign around the county to ask farmers for good fruit.

I tasted through their range of ciders on draft, which changes every now and then. 

Dry Barrel-Aged Cider
Floral and yellow apple aromas. Creamy body but tangy acid, so dry and fresh with crisp apple flavors and hints of caramel.

Local Gravenstein
Dry, bright, clean, a floral and peachy aspect. Hints of honey but a bright, steely finish. Very pure and crunchy. 

Golden Delicious Barrel-Aged
More sour fruit on the nose, like limes, lemons and crunchy apples. A bright and clean approach on the palate with juicy yellow apple flavors. Reminds me a bit of a sour white ale with its tang and interesting earthy aspects. Intriguing stuff but so easy to glug, too.

Pulley (Absinthe Style)
Lovely spicy nose of white pepper and anise. Earthy on the palate with flavors of rhubarb, fennel and anise. Still so fresh and vibrant though. This cider is fermented with juiced fennel. One of the most unique ciders I’ve tasted. Don’t go near this if you are one of those freaks who hate anise and fennel.

Smells like pepper spray and citrus juices. What a kick on the palate, this is a tangy but spicy cider with notes of sliced jalapenos, white pepper and lime juices. Fresh apple flavors blend well with this warm spice on the finish. Made with habanero and lime, this begs for some fresh fish tacos. Made from Fuji and Granny Smith apples grown in Washington’s Yakima valley.

Imperial Bourbon Barrel Aged
Wow, what a crazy-unique cider. Smells like brown sugar, apple pies and coffee cake. The palate shows tangy acid against a lovely sweetness of caramel apple, coconut shavings, pumpkin pulp and sweet corn. Really delicious stuff that stays fresh despite the rich 12% alcohol. 

Washboard Sarsaparilla
Vanilla bean and root beer aromas. Creamy body with a smooth texture to the cider. Baked apple flavors mix with vanilla bean, root beer, clove and light roast coffee. Richer flavor profile but still so easy to drink with crisp acid. Made from Yakima Valley Fuji and Granny Smiths with sarsaparilla from India. They should get an award for thinking up this crazy-ass concoction.

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