Carolina Beer Guy: Appalachian Ridge takes unusual approach to making cider

POMMES DE FRANCE: Appalachian Ridge Artisan Hard Cider makes its products in traditional Normandy style, which is crisp, effervescent and similar in many ways to Champagne or sparkling wine. Photo courtesy of Appalachian Ridge Artisan Hard Cider

Around Western North Carolina, hard cider can be found in supermarkets, gas station convenience stores and even at local beer breweries. But to fully experience Appalachian Ridge Artisan Hard Cider, there’s no substitute for the cidery itself.

While a few local outlets carry the product, Appalachian Ridge owner Alan Ward has no interest in large distribution. He prefers to entertain visitors at a cider house that occupies an old barn on his property, just a few miles from downtown Hendersonville, and considers it strictly an orchard-to-bottle operation.

“We don’t buy apples from anyone,” Ward says. “We don’t bring juice in. The apples all come from right here.”

More specifically, they’re grown on Ward’s land and the nearby orchard belonging to his cousin and cidermaker Wayne Barnwell. Appalachian Ridge uses apple trees imported from Normandy, France, and the cider is made in the Normandy style, which is crisp, effervescent and similar in many ways to Champagne or sparkling wine.

Ward grew up on the land, which his family has owned for nine generations. Apples were introduced to the property in the 1920s but have been utilized for purchasable ciders for only five years. Ward also operates the adjoining St. Paul Mountain Vineyards and sees numerous overlaps between the two products.

“Cider is a wine,” he says. “A lot of people misunderstand cider, [but] we make it like a wine. That kind of got us started. We were trying to perfect it.”

Neighborly assistance

While there are many hard ciders on the market, Ward is going for a different kind of product. “We’re not saying that we’re better than anyone else, but we’re trying to do it in a traditional way, like wine,” he says. “We want cider to have respect. Since we have been making ciders, a lot of [other] people have been making ciders. The interest has picked up, [but] we haven’t seen what we hope to see, which is a lot of people open cideries and grow the apple trees and pressing their cider. [And] there aren’t tasting rooms in the orchards.”

Ward is returning to Normandy in early 2019 to bring back another 5,000 trees for his orchard. The trees will be flown back to Hendersonville — an expensive endeavor, but one that he believes is well worth the effort. “This is no different than the grapes that come from Europe,” he says. “We are getting varieties that are 500-600 years old. These are cider apples.”

Ward says he’s the only grower in the country to have these Normandy varieties. In an effort to boost the local industry, he intends to begin propagating and selling the trees to “people who are serious about cider.” He also notes that traditional apples “are not bringing a lot per ton,” but that the “cider variety apples do quite well price-wise. You can take part of your growing space for traditional apples and really make a difference in your income.”

Famed for its apples, Henderson County is an ideal growing area for fruit in general, according to Ward. “We have geological diversity,” he says. “We have a lot of elevations where you can grow apples and grapes, [plus] we have cool evenings, and that makes apples have flavor in them.”

The welcome mat

Appalachian Ridge makes six ciders, plus a sherry and a brandy. The ciders are in the 8 percent ABV range. Ward keeps his spirits at under 25 percent alcohol by volume so he can sell them himself and not use state ABC stores. The spirits are instead classified as fortified wines.

In addition to enticing visitors with these beverages, Ward leads a hike on the property each Saturday morning. He also keeps the cider-tasting barn open year-round, including Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Day, but notes that fall is a particularly great season to visit since it’s when the apples are harvested.

“We want people to come out to the farm,” he says. “We want people to see what we are doing. We are an active farm. We want to be sustainable [and] we want to help the local apple and agricultural economy.”

While it’s easy to drive right past the cidery and winery without noticing it, the two operations hum with visitation. Ward credits much of the traffic to social media and other websites like TripAdvisor, though a sign along Interstate 26 also helps.

“Most of the people who come here are from out of town,” he says. “We get a ton of people from Upstate South Carolina, Charleston, Columbia and Charlotte.”

The work keeps Ward busy from morning to night, and though he rarely gets time to simply sit back and enjoy his own property and ciders, he seems content with his current schedule. “I just enjoy being outdoors and growing something,” he says.

Appalachian Ridge Artisan Hard Cider is at 749 Chestnut Gap Road in Hendersonville. Tasting room hours are noon-6 p.m., Sunday-Friday, and noon-7 p.m. Saturday.


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About Tony Kiss
Tony Kiss covers brewing news for the Xpress. He has been reporting on the Carolina beer scene since 1994. He's also covered distilling and cider making and spent 30 years reporting on area entertainment. Follow me @BeerguyTK

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