The Women Leading American Cider Forward | Wine Enthusiast
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The Women Leading American Cider Forward

From the beginning of the craft cider movement’s recent American revival, women have served prominent leadership roles as orchardists, cidermakers and agricultural researchers.

It turns out that cider drinkers are more gender balanced, too. According to Michelle McGrath, executive director of United States Association of Cider Makers, women account for nearly 50% of U.S. cider drinkers, as opposed to craft beer’s 31%.

A considerable number of cideries across the country are run by women. Located in proximity to wine regions like the Finger Lakes region of New York, Sonoma County, Willamette Valley in Oregon and coastal Washington, these producers craft distinctive orchard-based ciders. Here are some of the women who are shaping the future of American cider.

Woman in a red flannel harvesting apples in an orchard
Autumn Stoscheck mid-harvest / Photo by Ezra Sherman

Autumn Stoscheck, Eve’s Cidery

Autumn Stoscheck is one of the earliest leaders of the American cider revival and among the industry’s most significant players. In 2001, she opened Eve’s Cidery in the Finger Lakes at age 21 with money saved from waiting tables.

“The apple loves to grow here, and that’s inspiring to me,” she says.

Eve’s first cider was made with apples from the pick-your-own orchard where Stoscheck worked. Today, with her husband, Ezra Sherman, she grows apple varieties like Kingston Black, Northern Spy and Porter’s Perfection to make varietal bottlings that showcase the region’s unique terroir.

“We’re in this place where we’re just finally starting to wrap our heads around the apple varieties that do well in our orchards,” says Stoscheck. “It’s a lifetime project to understand that and do that well.”

Two photos, one of a dark-haired woman, another of four adults with apples in an orchard
Eleanor Léger / Photos courtesy of Eden Specialty Ciders

Eleanor Léger, Eden Specialty Ciders

After she spent 25 years working in management consulting and business, Eleanor Léger shifted her attention to cidermaking. In 2007, with her husband, Albert, she purchased an abandoned dairy farm in Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom, where they planted heirloom apple trees on a remote hillside.

A year later, she launched Eden Specialty Ciders. Léger began to sell craft ice ciders, ciders made from the juice of frozen apples.

“Ice cider seemed like the purest expression of Vermont terroir, and we wanted to do something that reflected our land and climate,” says Léger.

Léger has earned a reputation for making complex ice ciders with elegant sweetness and crunchy, juicy acidity. But that hasn’t stopped her from pursuing other experiments. Eden offers a range of ciders that includes dry varieties (both sparkling and still), and in April 2018 it introduced a canned cider that will be released annually by vintage.

Woman in front of a blooming apple tree
Ellen Cavalli / Photo by Karen Pavone

Ellen Cavalli, Tilted Shed

Ellen Cavalli and her husband, Scott Heath, believe that the same terroir that produces wine grapes in Sonoma County can also shepherd exceptional cider apples. The couple has made heritage ciders from apples at Tilted Shed since 2011.

Cavalli, who’s also a book and magazine editor, was drawn to cider for the same reason she was drawn to literature.

“You start with something mundane, and with time, work, a little creativity and some risk, you help it transform into something enjoyable, meaning, beautiful, and, if you’re lucky, revelatory and sublime,” says Cavalli.

In April 2018, Cavalli launched Malus, a quarterly cider magazine that features voices from throughout the industry and has already earned a following. The Fall 2018 issue tackled topics that relate to women in cider and confronted sexism in the industry.

Woman on ladder picking dark green apples, sack on her back
Kim Hamblin / Photo courtesy of Art & Science

Kim Hamblin, Art & Science

In a rural area of the Willamette Valley, just over an hour southwest of Portland, Oregon, Kim Hamblin spends a good bit of time on the hunt for wild apples, pears and quince growing along roads and ditches. She often finds herself knocking on doors to ask homeowners if she can pick from trees on their property.

Hamblin and her husband, Dan Rinke, who also works as a natural winemaker and grape grower at Johan Vineyards, craft natural cider and perry from the foraged fruit as well as fruit from their own farm. Hamblin doesn’t fully embrace the title of “cidermaker,” however.

“We use all native yeast and very little additives, so the process is more intuitive,” says Hamblin. “I feel more like a guide or a guardian than a maker.”

Hamblin also designs Art & Science’s distinctive labels. She also trains an eye toward the future by testing new seedlings on their home farm in Willamina.

“My goal is to grow trees that are more drought tolerant and thereby more capable of withstanding climate change,” she says.

Woman in bright red scarf standing between orchard rows
Nancy Bishop / Photo by Jen Lee Chapman

Nancy Bishop, Alpenfire Cider

Nancy Bishop’s infatuation with cider dates to the early 1970s, when as young travelers in Canada, she and her husband, Steve “Bear” Bishop, discovered a taste for it. It would be 30 years before they would embark on their first cidermaking project.

In 2003, the couple planted an orchard in Port Townsend, Washington, home to mild summers tempered by foggy mist that rolls off the Port Townsend Bay. The orchard holds approximately 1,000 trees devoted to bittersweet and bittersharp varieties, which are augmented by heritage apples sourced from local farms. Alpenfire crafts complex ciders that have the same tannic, layered flavors you’d expect from red wine.

“The Northwest had embraced flavored cider, but our hearts were always set on a different path,” says Bishop.

One unique apple that Bishop uses is the Airlie Red.

“This lovely apple with pale green skin and hot pink flesh is a standout in the world of apple varieties,” she says. It produces a popular rosé cider without colorings or other fruits. It’s just pure, red-fleshed apple juice.

One photo of the couple and a photo of her doing vineyard maintenance with a staple gun
Kimberly Kae and Matt DiFrancesco / Photo by Eva Deitch

Kimberly Kae, Metal House Cider

In 2009, Kae and her husband, Matt DiFrancesco, moved from Brooklyn, New York, to a small, neglected orchard in Esopus in the Hudson Valley, home of the Esopus Spitzenburg apple.

Kae has farming roots in Walla Walla, Washington, while DiFrancesco’s father is a vintner at Glenora Wine Cellars in the Finger Lakes. But it was the trees that captured their hearts, and they soon began to experiment with cider.

They produce small-batch Metal House Cider from sustainably grown and untreated or foraged fruit. They create sparkling ciders crafted by the traditional method that are dry and crisp with refined and juicy acidity.

Recently, Metal House began to farm a historic orchard with 100-year-old trees in Esopus using biodynamic and organic guidelines.

“We are attempting to create a cider which reflects the specific terroir here in Esopus,” she says.

Women in apple orchard with a mobile coop and flock of turkeys
Melissa Madden / Photo by Dan Chamberlain

Melissa Madden, Kite & String

If you visit the Finger Lakes region’s Good Life Farm in Interlaken, New York, you might see Madden as she rides through orchards on a draft horse. Madden and her business partner, Garrett Miller, own the organic farm that houses the Finger Lakes Cider House as well as their cider brand, Kite & String, which they launched as Good Life Cider in 2013.

Kite & String has made waves with its sparkling ciders like Cazenovia. It’s a bone-dry, traditional-method cider made from varieties like Dabinett, Somerset Redstreak, Pound Sweet and Northern Spy.

The cidery often tests out different apples and methods. With an operation like this, the learning never stops, says Madden.

“Our farm is only 10 years old,” she says. “We don’t have orchardists in our families. It is not enough time to know anything.”

Madden is grateful for the close community of cider makers in the Finger Lakes, made up of people like Autumn Stoscheck who helped pave the way for women like herself. Now they’re both part of the same group of American cider makers that promote and recognize their peers, while simultaneously striving to advance the quality and craft of every cider they create.