Winesap – A Versatile Apple Endures

by | Nov 30, 2021

Apple Tales with Darlene Hayes

The modern cider enthusiast tends to think of England when the subject of famous apples for cider comes up, but the United States has had its fair share, as well. Harrison, the subject of a previous Apple Tale, is a good example. Most Harrisons had all but disappeared from American orchards by the early 20th century. Winesap, however, endured.

Winesap originated some time in the 18th century, possibly on land owned by the Coles family in west New Jersey. The Cole family had been farming there since Samuel Coles arrived in the area around 1678. One of his descendents, another Samuel Coles, was noted as growing Winesap in the first mention of it found in print, A.F.M. Willich’s Domestic Encyclopedia, v. 3, where it was updated to include American apples by James Mease in 1803. (It was listed as “Wine-sop.”) “[T]he cider produced from it is vinous, clear, and strong; equal to any fruit liquor of our country for bottling,” noted William Coxe in A View of the Cultivation of Fruit Trees, and the Management of Orchard and Cider (1817).

The reference to wine in its name is an immediate clue to the high regard in which Winesap was held. Cidermakers were always excited to find an apple that they believed made “vinous” cider; cider that was as rich and flavorful as the wines they knew. The early 19th century American horticultural writers made frequent comparisons between cider and wine. For example, in a piece on cider apples written for The New England Farmer in 1826, Jesse Buel noted that, “[t]he quality of cider depends upon the apples from which it is manufactured – the soil and location where they grow – and the process of manufacturing. When the two first are favourable, and the last well conducted, the product will be a fine racy liquor, superior for the table to the common wines of France, Spain, and Italy, and will keep as well as them.”

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Much changed in the mid-19th century, though, as much of the American rural population moved to the cities and waves of immigrants from places where cider was not the drink of choice – Germany, Italy, Poland – shifted the American palate https://casinopinups.com/ toward other beverages. The go-to drink for most became beer which could be made cheaply on an industrial scale. As tastes changed, so did the role of apples. Farmers still made cider, but they increasingly focused on producing fruit for the fresh market. Winesap, as it happened, fit perfectly in that niche, too.

 Tannin gets talked about a lot in today’s cider circles. It adds body and fullness to a cider as well as being one of the components that will help it keep over time (acid is important, too). Cidermakers of the past eras recognized this, but for them the most important attribute of a cider apple was a rich concentrated flavor and plenty of sugar. “The only artificial criterion employed to ascertain the quality of an apple for cider, is the specific gravity of its must . . . This ensures to the liquor, strength . . .” explained Buel (New England Farmer, v5, no. 33, 1827). Winesap had both sugar and complexity of flavor. What saved it from obscurity, though, was its other attributes: red color, a good size and texture, mid- to late-ripening time (so it tended to keep well), and not having much in the way of tannin.

Winesap’s popularity as a fresh market apple, and the ability to grow well in many climates and soil types, let it find a place in commercial orchards from coast to coast. Its reputation also led to the proliferation of other, sometimes related, apples bearing the Winesap name: Winesap of the West, Winesap Start Double-Red, and Stayman Winesap among them.

As it is still widely grown today, it is possible to find any number of Winesap ciders made in different parts of the United States. The examples I tasted recently, however, were sometimes so divergent in strength and complexity that I had to wonder if they had truly been made with the same variety. What is more likely is what Buel observed almost two centuries ago: That the manner in which an apple is grown can have a profound impact on the nature of the cider that apple will produce. The needs of the fresh market may not necessarily jibe with those of the cidermaker.

Potter’s Craft Cider – Pelure – Charlottesville, Va.

Dry, bay leaf, dried apple, apple, skin, pear, lemon, nutmeg, just ripe apricot, toast; sparkling
2019 | 9% ABV

Manoff Market Cidery – Winesap – New Hope, Penn.

Dry; apple, apple skin, peach, sweet lemon; sparkling
2019 | 6.6% ABV

Lassen Traditional CiderParadise Strong – Chico, Calif.

Dry; apple skin, plum, plum skin, bread dough, VA; sparkling
2019 | 7.5% ABV

Lassen Traditional Cider – Winesap – Chico, Calif.

Dry; ripe apple, just ripe peach, pear, plum skin, just ripe pineapple; sparkling
2016 | 8.1% ABV

Lassen Traditional CiderWinesap – Chico, Calif.

Dry; mint, pear skin, oak, dried pineapple, peach, yellow apple, orange juice; sparkling
2019 | 8.1% ABV

Liberty Ciderworks – Winesap – Spokane, Wash.

Semi-dry; ripe apple, lemon juice, pineapple, pear, nutmeg, peach, vanilla; sparkling
2017 | 9.0% ABV

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