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Kingston Black, Porter’s Perfection, Harry Masters Jersey, Bill’s Red Flesh, Muscadet de Dieppe, Yellow Newton Pippins—their names evoke a pastoral Old World scene, but these varieties of apples have found a bucolic new home on Vancouver Island. On a long, narrow strip of green orchard that seems to run right down to the blue water of Saanich Inlet, Kristen and Bruce Jordan planted 1,000 trees (including 50 varieties of English, French, and German cider apples), built a cider house, and opened Sea Cider last year.
Across the water on Salt Spring Island, apples have a history almost as long as that of the province, going right back to 1860. But cheap imports from the U.S., New Zealand, and China have left most of the old B.C. orchards abandoned, torn out for sheep, grapes, or other crops, or bulldozed for houses and shopping malls. Some apples are making a comeback, however—not as lunch-box fruit but as cider, apple wine, and apple brandies, artisan products for people who want to drink, as well as eat, local.
The pioneer of this movement was Al Piggott, a curmudgeonly Scot who started the Cowichan Valley’s Merridale Ciderworks 25 years ago. Rick Pipes and Janet Docherty bought it in 2000, knowing little about cider and even less about orchards or farming. In just eight years they’ve transformed the property, the products, and themselves—Pipes recently retired from his law practice to work full-time at his cider house (he also hosts students interested in cider-making). Merridale crafts eight ciders, including traditional English, a Normandy, and a scrumpy. Its sparkling Somerset is, quite simply, the best cider in B.C. Last year they bought a copper still and built their “brandihouse,” and they will launch both apple and blackberry brandies this fall.
Like Rick Pipes, Bruce Jordan is a lawyer turned cidermaker (though he had been experimenting with cider in his garage for years). Kristen Jordan grew up in a family of farmers and orchardists, and developed a taste for Herefordshire cider at school in Wales. For their wedding in 1999 they made cider for their guests and gave them apple jelly as gifts, sparking the idea of turning their hobby into both a business and a way of life. Last year they made six ciders, using mostly certified-organic apples, including the Rumrunner (aged in old screech casks) and Kings & Spies (from unwanted apples collected by the LifeCycles Fruit Tree Project).
Between Sea Cider and Merridale, Vancouver Island is fast becoming the cider capital of B.C., but there’s an interest in apples in the rest of the province, too. In Vernon, Okanagan Spirits distills an award-winning Calvados, or “Canados,” while in Kelowna, Raven Ridge makes apple wine and iced ciders from Braeburns and Fujis. In the Similkameen, Forbidden Fruit Winery gives us Adam’s Apple, a dry table wine; in Naramata, Elephant Island Orchard Wines makes a gorgeous sparkling apple wine called the Little King. Rick Pipes thinks that there’s also a future for orchards growing apples for both cider and brandy in the Kootenays and the Peace.
In September, when melancholy mixes too easily with the scent of mist, damp earth, and wood smoke, take comfort in one of the gifts of the season—not only do B.C.–made ciders buoy the spirits, they save orchards from the axe.
A fortified French-style aperitif or dessert cider, this is made from Snow, or Fameuse, apples that came over from Normandy 400 years ago. It’s dark amber, with toffee, butter, and brown-sugar flavours that match well with dark chocolate. $25/375 ml
The Wild English is inspired by the Hereford ciders of Kristen Jordan’s school days. Dark, unfiltered lees give it the earthy, smoky, spicy flavours that go well with sausage, cheese, and pickles. Very dry. $12/500 ml
This is the Jordans’ tribute to New World cider-making. Pale straw in colour, like a sparkling white wine; off-dry but still pleasantly sharp; bright with the taste of apple peel: this one is made for shellfish and spicy Asian food. $12/500 ml
Sea Cider, 2487 Mt. St. Michael Rd., Victoria; 250-544-4824. Available in Vancouver at Kitsilano Wine Cellar, Firefly, and other private wine stores