Much has already been written about how apple orchards in bucolic Sonoma County, California, have lost ground to the almighty wine grape, at least since the 1970s. Wine grapes are now the largest cash crop in the area, and facing the economic realities many farmers have been hard-pressed to keep their old trees in the ground, let alone plant new ones. The recent exciting growth of the United States cider market has done a lot to reverse that trend, but while working orchard acreage seems to have stabilized, even bumped up a bit, not everyone has gotten the message that cider is the “it” drink. A 2018 Sonoma County Economic Development Board report on local craft beverage industries gave but a passing nod to the beverage — using the word once and only in the executive summary.
Recognizing the need to raise their profile, and in the spirit of camaraderie that has come out of the devastating fires that swept through the area last fall, in which at least one cidermaker lost his home, the local cider community has banded together to launch the first Sonoma County Cider Week. The week kicks off on Friday, August 3, and culminates in the historic Gravenstein Apple Fair on the following weekend. In between there will be an eagerly anticipated txotx and Basque-style cider release, several tap takes overs, orchards tours, cider pairing dinners and diverse events whose proceeds will go to benefit victims of the 2017 Northern California fires, including through the Just and Resilient Futures Fund.
The climax of the week is the 45th annual Gravenstein Apple Fair, which draws some 14,000 visitors from all over the Bay Area and benefits the non-profit Sonoma County Farm Trails, whose mission is supporting local and sustainable agriculture. One of the highlights of the Fair is the Craft Cider Tent, which started in 2012 with a single small cidery and this year will be pouring ciders from 17 local cidermakers, all using local apples and making cider within 100 miles of the Fair’s venue in Sebastopol.
Ellen Cavalli, co-owner of Tilted Shed Ciderworks and one of the organizers for the event, says it was amazing how the whole week has come together. “We don’t have a formal organization, but every cidermaker pitched in and did something to help make it all happen: designing a logo, building a website, working with retailers on special displays, public relations, etc.,” she adds. “The spirit of community and collaboration has been wonderful. We all love wine, but cider is an important part of Sonoma County, and we hope that Cider Week will give it more of the visibility it deserves.”