Delta County’s small acreage agriculture producers create some of the best and most unique culinary products available.
Shawn and Janese Carney, since 2005, have been turning the fruits of their labor into one of the most unique local products of all at their Blossomwood Cidery just north of Cedaredge on NE Indian Camp Avenue.
The centuries old culture of cider making, production techniques that focus on purity and quality, and specific apple varieties come together at the Carney’s cidery and make the superb, refreshing beverage available here year round.
Real apple cider, known by some people as “hard cider,” that comes from the Blossomwood orchards is a completely suitable addition to anyone’s rack of Delta County wines.
Historically, Shawn explaines, the term “cider” meant a fermented apple juice with an alcohol content. The term only began being applied to non-fermented juice during Prohibition.
It was in 2003 that the Carneys bought their 15 acres of apple orchard and began the pursuit of the dream that’s becoming a reality for them now. And, Shawn quickly admits that pursuing a dream in agriculture is a lot of hard work.
“Everybody needs their dream,” he says. “It keeps you going. Of course, this is agriculture. And, the reality is that everyday is pretty tough.”
Shawn is looking at another three years to build the cidery’s orchard-to-bottle production to the levels he wants. All the while he’s maintaining the sterling quality of his product that current customers have come to expect and appreciate.
Just as with other Delta County small acreage, value-added ag operations, the realization of Shawn’s plans will need some cooperation from elements that are beyond his control. For example, the several weeks of 27- to 30-degree weather that settled over Surface Creek Valley last spring was hard on his specialized cider apples.
But enough of the blossoms survived to make a crop for this year. The cold spell kept cider production from this year’s crop to about 800 gallons, about half of what the Carneys’ current orchard can normally produce. The available cider from Blossomwood for this year will sell out at some point.
Overall though, “We’re on a good start,” Shawn says. “In the next three years we’ll have our operation the way we eventually hope to.”
When Shawn and Janese bought their orchard it was producing mostly red and golden delicious apples and some Rome beauty variety. No one should try and make real cider from those types, Shawn explains. It would be the equivalent of trying to make good wine from table grapes bought at the local grocery.
Instead, Shawn went to work applying the knowledge he had gained from considerable study on cider apples. He began converting the delicious trees by grafting in cuttings of the cider apple varieties he wanted. He had evaluated over 70 different kinds of cider apple varieties by obtaining sample cuttings from the USDA’s huge repository.
The types of apples best suited for making real cider are known as Old American Heirloom varieties. They include names like Harrison, Grannywinkle, Smith’s cider, Campfield and many dozens of others. For example, Shawn grafted over some of the golden delicious trees in his orchard to Roxbury russet variety for making real cider. The more common Jonathan and Winesap apples are also considered suitable for making high quality real cider, and Shawn has some of those in his orchard as well.
The productive capacity of the orchard is being increased. New trees are planted and others are grafted in with new stock. Shawn has just put in several rows of cider pears with root stock that originated in Germany.
Before deciding which varieties of apples he wanted to begin experimenting with, Shawn drove to New Hampshire and bought boxes of cider apples. While back east, he talked with helpful growers of the uncommon varieties he wanted. Some of those varieties have been only rarely grown in America in many decades.
Shawn also went to school to study processes for turning juice from his apples into the refreshing real cider his customers enjoy. The techniques for fermenting juice into real cider are fairly straightforward — crushing, fermenting, aging and bottling. Yet still, Shawn has adapted a few of his own techniques for making the clear and tasty cider that, understandably, he’s not too eager to talk about.
Shawn has had some of his cider reduced by a local distiller to a brandy-like concentration and then added some of his juice back in. The final product is a delicious apple brandy aperitif that has about 20 percent alcohol content, which is on average about twice that of Blossomwood’s bottled real cider. A superb and fun-to-enjoy local, real cider from Blossomwood will cost you less than a bottle of good, local wine.
The cider goes well with cheese, pork, curry dishes and other spicy food. The Carneys harvested their first crop in 2005 and began selling their crystal pure and handsomely bottled and labeled product in 2006.
After trying initially to market in Denver area liquor stores, Shawn found transportation costs were prohibitively high. So, Blossomwood Cider can be found in local stores: Short Branch in Cedaredge and Tri-R at Hotchkiss. It is available at Delicious Orchards in Paonia and at the Crested Butte Farmer’s Market. The product is also available at the cidery on NE Indian Camp Avenue. Just look for the distinctive sign and you can’t miss it.
“Most people just don’t realize the length of time it takes to get into production for making real cider,” Shawn explains. “And then, your product has to stand out in a competitive market.” And Blossomwood Cider does stand out.
The Carneys and their Blossomwood Cidery are, like other small, value- added ag producers in Delta County, doing yeoman’s duty for local economic development. They keep good ag land and water in production. They create the county’s reputation as a high quality ag product producer. They contribute to the ag tourism sector of the economy. They preserve open space. They enrich the experience of living in a place where a centuries old craft and culture like real cider making can be seen and enjoyed anytime.
Delta County’s small, value-added ag producers are working hard every day to earn the patronage and support of local residents.
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