Hard cider on the rise in Sonoma County
Grapes may be all the rage in Sonoma County today, but there was a time when another fruit was at the top of the local crop.
In the 1940s, nearly 15,000 acres in the county were planted with apples. Over time, most of the orchards have been replaced by vineyards, but locals have remained loyal to the crunchy fruit and the scenic orchards that support it.
In the past few years, cider makers have led the charge in rejuvenating local orchards and bringing back the apple — albeit in a liquid form. Thanks to the growing popularity of hard cider, it looks like they may be succeeding. To celebrate the noble fruit, we’ve lined up a few Sonoma County cideries you should get to know this year:
ACE Premium Craft Cider
ACE is a family-owned Sonoma County cider company that released its first cider in 1993. Through the years, ACE has continued to evolve and grow into a nationally known brand while hanging onto its Sonoma County roots.
Owner and Founder Jeffrey House and his sons like to keep things fresh, adding new, unique flavors and seasonal offerings such as the recently released Ginger Cider. Their soon-to-be-released Apple Honey Cider (expected late January) is made with organic, wildflower honey from Gipson’s Golden honey of Santa Rosa. A portion of profits from the new honey cider, with a taste similar to mead, will be donated to Project Apis, which funds honey bee research.
Despite its distribution across the country, ACE still operates a Cider Pub where locals can buy its ciders directly. The cider pub is open from 1 to 5 p.m. Fridays, when you can stop by to grab a quick pint, fill up a growler and enjoy some live music. If the cider is flowing and the pub is full, they may keep the doors open a little longer.
Tasting flights of all nine varieties of cider are $10. The cider pub is located behind the company’s production facility at 2064 Gravenstein Highway North, Sebastopol. 707-823-1101. acecider.com
David Ridenhour produced the first release of Agrestic cider in 2014 with the help of seasoned cidermakers Scott Heath and Ellen Cavalli of Tilted Shed. Ridenhour makes his small-batch farmhouse ciders out of a shared facility in Forestville and uses fresh seasonal fruit sourced from local farms. Although his operation remains small-scale (the company doesn’t even have a website yet), Ridenhour’s ciders are already making their mark, and his plans for the future are ambitious. More exclusive ciders will be released this year as well as a mead, a fermented beverage made with honey. As for the website, it will be up and running early this year at agresticcider.com.
You can sample Agrestic ciders at the Forestville production facility (appointment required), or purchase bottles at BeerCraft in Rohnert Park, Bottle Barn in Santa Rosa or the Rincon Valley Taproom in Santa Rosa. To make a tasting appointment, email Ridenhour at firstname.lastname@example.org. 9287 Torrs Way.
Ned and Michelle Lawton bought their Sebastopol heirloom apple farm in 2016 after being bit by the cider bug. Shortly after, they launched Ethic Ciders.
Now in their second year of production, the couple makes some 2,000 cases of heirloom cider using 100 percent organically and ethically farmed fruit sourced from their own cider apple orchard and neighboring apple farmers. The Lawtons are strong proponents of regenerative farming and like to explore strategies that both heal the land and increase the quality of the apples grown at their orchard on Occidental Road.