Perched atop the highest point (1227 feet above sea level) in the small New England town of West Brookfield, Massachusetts, sits Ragged Hill Orchard. Founded in 1984 by orchardist Keith Arsenault, with an eye towards cultivating “antique” apple cultivars, it is now the home of Ragged Hill Cider Co.
In 2010, my father and cidermaker, Steve Garwood, joined Keith and began acquiring equipment and pressing fresh cider for sale at the orchard as well as experimenting with fermenting that fresh cider. When I moved back to town in 2013, after a decade of living in San Francisco, my father was deep in the planning stages of opening a commercial cidery. Keith had begun planting apples suitable for cider and my father’s cidermaking skills were becoming well honed.
My background is in marketing and public relations for boutique hotels and chef-driven restaurants. I had little idea of the kind of work I would find once back in my rural hometown. My husband and I had left San Francisco to start our family, with dreams of land with a barn and gardens. I could not have imagined that two years later we would plant the first apple trees on our own land.
That first year, we planted Roxbury Russet, Golden Russet and Dabinett. In 2018 and 2019 we planted Ashmead’s Kernel, Redfield, Harry Master’s Jersey, Virginia (Hewe’s) Crab and Transcendent Crab. These first 300 trees were cultivars that we hoped would thrive in our conditions and in a few years time we’d be making our own estate grown cider. We had become apple farmers!
In 2017, my father, Keith and I formed Ragged Hill Cider Co., became a fully licensed commercial farm winery and started selling our first ciders. Our ethos is simple: we make ciders that celebrate the fruit and the land where it is grown and we strive to be good stewards of the orchard lands under our care.
Our ciders are crafted like fine wines: in small batches, with minimal intervention and fermented at low temperatures over long months. Since all the fruit we press comes from the single orchard at Ragged Hill, our ciders speak of that piece of rocky land where they are grown. Our production space and tasting room are located on the orchard at Ragged Hill and our entire process, from tree to glass, takes place completely in the orchard.
This means the way in which we run our orchard is of the utmost importance. Ragged Hill is managed sustainably and responsibly, using Integrated Pest Management (IPM) practices and our home orchard is managed organically (mostly through benign neglect, if I’m honest).
Our ultimate goal with the initial tree plantings is to identify at least one cultivar to form the backbone for our cider program. Much like how wine growers specialize in grape varietals for their growing region, we are working toward the same principle with our apples.
The Roxbury Russet, an apple with deep history in our region, was the ideal choice. Named after the town of Roxbury, Massachusetts — less than 75 miles from our orchard — in the mid-17th century, it is the oldest named cultivar in the United States. As luck would have it, this vigorous apple grows beautifully in our well-drained, glacial till orchard sites and our cider trials with it have been inspiring. This spring we committed to this cultivar and planted 150 new Roxbury Russet trees in our home orchard. We may be a few years away from realizing our goal, but we’re willing to bet it will be worth the wait!
Anne Garwood returned to Massachusetts in 2013 after living in San Francisco for 10 years, to find her father’s passion for cider now a full-blown obsession. Soon, she too was seeking out new and interesting ciders at bottle shops and farmers markets and reading through her father’s library of books on the subject. In the spring of 2015, Anne and her father planted the first 150 apple trees (Roxbury Russet, Golden Russet and Dabinett) on a piece of old farmland where she lives with her husband and young son. She leads the sales and marketing efforts for Ragged Hill Cider Co. using skills she picked up during her years in boutique hospitality marketing and public relations.
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