By Peter Holmstrom
Photo courtesy of Cider Brothers
Lodi, California might not be the first place you’d think of when you think cider. Your mind might go to wine, Zinfandel, or if you were really in the know, A&W Root Beer. However, Lodi also happens to be the home of an emerging cider company that pairs cider with one of the counties staples: wine.
Coming off of five generations of winemaking, Michael and Paul Scotto came to the conclusion in late 2013 that it was time to try something new. And that something new was cider.
“It wasn’t a question of ‘let’s give this a try’, it was a decision of ‘we’re doing this’ and going in full board,” says Paul Scotto, cider maker for Cider Brothers and wine maker for Scotto Cellars.
The idea had been germinating for some time, first as an experiment, then as a viable business. “We do a lot of alternative wines [at Scotto Cellars], we’re not just a Cabernet, Merlot, Chardonnay winery,” Scott says. “We have 40 to 45 different wine brands, ranging from different appellations, different varietals. But then we also do stuff like flavored wines, low alcohol wines.”
The idea of starting a cidery was not as far-fetched as it might be for some people. Much of the equipment and scientific know-how it takes to produce wine can also be applied to the production of cider. And the business angle has been well learned over the five generations of winemaking.
Scotto says his father once tested the waters of cider. “It was a matter of getting a lot of his old notebooks out, and this was before it was really popular, he was a big advocate of cider,” Scotto says. “It wasn’t the right time for cider then, but we thought, now might be now.”
However, there was still one stumbling block—the juice. Lodi, as well as much of California, has become inundated with grape vineyards over the past 50 years, taking the place of the seemingly less profitable apples. Luckily though, the Scotto family was able to source some excellent quality juice from Washington State. Utilizing a custom blend of five principle apple varietals, Scotto began experimenting with cider making.
“Back when I was making regular apple cider, we were deciding on the flavor and we were thinking ‘how can we be different?’ and that’s when the light bulb went off in the head of ‘wait a minute, we got all this wine’, so instead of doing all this fruit flavors, start playing with wine flavors,” Scotto recalls. “So we started blending Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, but it was the Pinot Grigio that really hit. I’m not aware of any other winery that actually blending wine back into the cider.”
With two completed ciders in hand and ready to go to market, Paul and Michael Scotto, along with some distribution help from their brother Anthony, and managing help from sister Natalie, the Cider Brothers brand was born. First bottles with the Cider Brothers hit the shelves in January of 2014, and sales for the cider have proven their investment a wise one. Since then, production of their cider has doubled to 35,000 gallons.
The two ciders currently on the market are the William Tell, a blend of hard cider with about 15 percent Pinot Grigio wine, and the Pacific Coast Hard Cider, the original cider recipe devised by Paul Scotto as their flagship. Currently available in numerous states throughout the country, Cider Brothers is expecting to expand their operation and distribution as the market demands.
For the future, Paul Scotto is hoping to experiment with other apple varietals and wine pairing, and is currently in the process of aging batches in wine barrels.
Despite still being an integral part of the Scotto Cellars business, Scotto admits he has been bitten by the cider bug, and looks forward to a long future in the cider industry.
“I’ve done a lot of wine tasting, and a lot of wine events,” Scotto says. “And when you go to a wine event, like a big Zin tasting, yeah they’re all different, but they’re also pretty similar in taste profile. The cool thing with cider, is when you go to a cider summit, all the ciders are different! That’s just really cool.”
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