Apple Press at

Fruit and Cider Talk from Calais, Vermont. Maintained by Terry Bradshaw, fruit guy.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Ham makes cider....

I think I have a protégé.

Over the past decade I’ve gotten a bit of a reputation for my cider. And of course in the last couple of years I have been helping people make their own through my little garage mill. Well this fall things really took off, and folks seem to be getting into the cider thing, especially my pal Ham Davis.

I first met Ham some three or so years ago, when he called up UVM looking for someone to prune the apple tree in his back yard. So one March day I went to his Burlington Hill Section house and whacked away at his twenty year-old Red Astrachan tree. Ham hung around as I pruned and picked my brain on all things apple, as many do. He mentioned several times that he was a writer, something I admit I brushed off a little bit. So when I was done, he asked what I would charge him. “A good story on the apple industry,” I told him.

So at least two good stories later (pretty good reads on the Darrows of Green Mountain Orchard and the orchard operations at Scott Farm) and many afternoons spent in that orchard and at the farm talking apples, grapes, and cider, Ham made it down my way this fall. But first he published a nice little piece on cider , mainly on Farnum Hill but with a decent bit of my operation in it.

So Ham came by the mill for a good long day this fall, and got a good dose of juice for himself. It’s his first turn at making cider, or even fermenting anything beyond some nasty brew back in his days in the service. I’m helping him along the way, answering any questions he has like the good cidermaker’s assistant I am.

I look forward to his cider, and mine, next spring. And I look forward to that apple/cider book I know he will write one day.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

2007 cider season by the numbers

For six weekends I ran the mill this past season. That’s no days off for six (actually seven) weeks. What came of it all? Here’s 2007 by the numbers:
Four good local news stories, the best and cheapest advertising I could get. An emailed press release is a powerful thing.
About 700 gallons of juice squeezed, half of that fermenting stock. Sold out most weekends.
$1330 net profit.
65 gallons of the good stuff for my own use, 13 gallons of sweet juice frozen or canned.
Met some nice people, and spread the goodness of real cider to ‘the masses’.
Got some nice trades; a belly full of fresh raw oysters, and several folks offering up their own brews.

All sounds like a rousing success, no? Well the mill needs just shy of $1000 in improvements, which I could realistically put into it every year for the next few. Stainless press pan and plastic racks, for starters. Some welding and tweaking to the press itself. Epoxy coating the walls and sealing of the garage. Patching and sealing the concrete floor. Installing hot water. Then of course there’s the grinder which, while it is the most efficient garage-press unit I’ve ever seen, could use a major overhaul. New steel table with stainless top. 35 gallon conical bottom complete drain hopper, direct dumped from the grinder. Then the big kicker, a stainless pomace pump to fill the racks without any buckets. Of course that would also require some electrical work. And finally a washline for incoming fruit would be an excellent addition.

Presently I have the efficiency of the mill dialed in to commercial standards, and no backyard screwbox can touch it in terms of gallons of juice per bushel. I feel very good about mill sanitation when I am using my own fruit, and in the way that I operate it. Still, most of these improvements are geared towards two goals: further improving sanitation, and speeding cleanup time. Once these parts are tweaked I should be able to squeeze more in less time and clean up in an hour, as opposed to the three-plus it takes now. Then I might be able to take a day off in the fall, or squeeze more, including taking in people’s fruit for custom pressing.

So $1300 doesn’t sound like so much now, does it? I would do that in a month of bartending back in the day, and those few customers who always turn out to be pains in the ass at least weren’t standing in my driveway. I also didn’t have to invest almost three grand to get there (not including the real estate of the garage, or even my orchard costs) with continued investment of $500-1000 for each of the foreseeable seasons.

Why do I do this? Maybe Julie’s right, that I’m trying to live out my little orchard/cider dreams. I know that I would be making cider for myself no matter what, so it makes sense to do it right and spread the goodies around. . I’ll go on about those (sweet juice) customers that make me question the worth of it all in another entry. But still I could do this by sticking only to the hard cider end of things, which would be a hell of a lot easierBut then I wouldn’t have the satisfaction of having a stranger call me out of the blue to tell me that my sweet cider is the best stuff they’ve ever tasted. And I wouldn’t have Alice standing next to the press with her cup, catching any drip she can get to, with that big juicy grin on her face.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

2007 Cider Mill Notes...Looking for Input

So harvest is officially over, and the cider mill closed. I need to assess things to see how to tweak it for next year, or if it even makes sense to do so. So, my minimal legion of readers, I will call on you to help me out. In the coming days and weeks I will be bouncing ideas around about how the season went, where I want the mill to go, and how to get there. Any takers? Feel free to post comments through the blog