Article By: Harvey Finkel
COLRAIN, MA An absence permeates the peaceful, rustic premises of West County Cider, that of Terry Maloney, the guru of American cider making, particularly in New England. Terry died in early 2O1O in a freakish accident in the cellar, deeply shocking his family, everyone who knew him, and the wider cider-producing community. But a presence remains too: his work and memory live on, and his wife and partner, Judith, and son, Field, are carrying on.
The Maloneys came from California in 1972 for a visit, and just stayed. After attaining a degree of solvency, they bought the three-acre property outside of tiny Colrain, in the northwest corner of Massachusetts, built the house, and, continuing their interest in wine, made cider from wild apples for home use. Hobby turned to passion to profession: the land was cleared and, in 198O, apple trees were planted. West County Cider was established as a commercial cidery in 1984. Artisanal ciders are made in small batches from a variety of apples by natural methods. Some of the cultivars are familiar; some are arcane, suitable only for cider. The Maloneys and West County Cider became the focus of cider production, developing their Catamount Hill Orchard, experimenting, refining fermentation techniques, founding, in 1994, Cider Days, an annual exposition and celebration on the first weekend of November (ciderday.org). They created a market for traditional handcrafted cider.
For his day, or night, job, Terry had been an emergency-room physician. Judith, warm and capable and deeper than she lets on, was born in an English village, now a London suburb, during the waning days of World War II. Her mother, granddaughter of a London pub owner, married a Yank working for the US Army Air Corps. The family moved to California when Judith was three. She grew up in San Francisco-Berkeley-Petaluma, and attended UC Berkeley, where she and Terry met, both working in the cafeteria. He had resumed his education after a tour in the Marine Corps. They made wine at home, at times from the grapes of the famed Winery Lake Vineyard in Carneros during the farm workers’ strike. Judith would also play the flute there in a chamber group at parties.
Field was born in 1973. He was so named to avoid having still another Patrick or Kevin in the family and to commemorate his place of birth, Plainfield, Massachusetts, and other nearby towns (Ashfield, Chesterfield, Hatfield, Greenfield, Deerfield). He is an editor, and has worked at wineries in California as well as at West County. He is about to publish a book on “wine, grapes, cider, apples” (Little, Brown). Judith hopes he’ll take over direction of West County.
The apple, Malus domestica, a member of the rose family, is an ancient fruit, probably originating in western Asia. It figures abundantly in history and legend, and in the culinary arts. More than 75OO cultivars are known. It is the world’s most cultivated fruit tree. The United States is the world’s second largest producer, after China, and we rank very high in quality. Massachusetts, an underappreciated source of fine fruit, grows excellent apples, especially in the area known as “apple country” in the central and western parts of the state. America’s first apple orchard was planted near Boston early in the 17th century. The Baldwin and Roxbury Russet apples were discovered in Massachusetts. Johnny Appleseed (John Chapman) was born in Leominster, Massachusetts. September is proclaimed Apple Month in the Commonwealth.
Cider has long been a popular beverage, particularly in northern climes, where grapes ripen with difficulty. The word “cider” originated in the Hebrew shekhar, then wriggled through Greek, Latin and old French. In some jurisdictions, especially the US, it must be called hard cider (rough cider in Australia) if containing more than O.5 percent alcohol. Should the alcoholic strength of hard cider be increased by the addition of sugar or fruit for further fermentation, it must be called apple wine in the United States. The northern Berkshire hill towns of northwestern Massachusetts in Franklin County are traditional cider and applejack centers. It is told that applejack, when illegal, was sold as “cider vinegar”. Cider was a preferred beverage, safer than water, even for children, during colonial times. John Adams, perhaps Massachusetts’s greatest citizen, famously started his day with a healthy measure of cider (keeping the doctor away with a liquid preventive). One of the prevailing slogans of the presidential campaign of 184O, which elected the short-lived William Henry Harrison, was “log cabin and hard cider”.
West County’s orchard contains more than 14OO trees, growing about 3O apple varieties. Like grapes, apples are heterozygous – they do not breed true from seeds, but must be propagated by grafting. Honeybees see to pollination. As needed, additional fruit may be purchased from neighbors. The trees are “semi-dwarfs” in keeping with the rough terrain and climate and the 13OO-foot elevation. The trees are sprayed against tiny pests. Two dogs and fencing help keep the deer away.
Fresh ripe apples are hand sorted, ground (scratted), and pressed. After a few days rest, the juice is inoculated with cultivated yeast. Occasionally, fermentation by wild yeasts is allowed to begin. Fermentation takes two to five weeks, depending on the degree of dryness desired. Racking is performed as needed. Oxygen is displaced by carbon dioxide. (Apples are even more susceptible to oxidation than are grapes: witness how rapidly a cut surface browns.) Minimal necessary sulfite is applied to stun wild yeasts and other microorganisms, to prevent oxidation, and to protect desired residual sugar from fermentation. Once fermentation has finished, the cider is filtered and bottled. It needs no aging. Not sugar, nor juice, nor concentrate is added. Malolactic fermentation is not allowed, so that enlivening and preserving acidity is not lost. The ciders are mostly dry or nearly so, and gently sparkling naturally. Their alcohol content ranges between 5.8 and 6.8 percent, half that of wine. The available array of varieties will vary with what has been growing and maturing well. Most accompany food well: use where white wines fit. Or just sip with nibbles.
Production of about 3OOO gallons (nearly 15,OOO bottles) per year is likely to increase to 4OOO. Retail price is $12 per 75-centiliter bottle. The ciders are available at shops and restaurants as listed in the website.
West County Cider, P.O. Box 29, Colrain, MA O134O; 413.624.3481; firstname.lastname@example.org; westcountycider.com. Visitors can be accommodated only during Cider Days (see that website).
PIPPIN CIDER From France by way of Geneva, NY. Probably was
a seedling. Good body and finish. 165 cases.
KINGSTON BLACK An unusual and respected English apple. Fine aroma. Delicate, balanced, tasty. Nice finish. 67 cases.
REDFIELD Related to crab apple. Red flesh. Mellow texture, balanced. Bit of tannin. Finishes well. 184 cases.
BALDWIN Cultivar discovered in Wilmington, MA, around 174O by William Butters. (There’s a monument in Wilmington.) Originally named Butters’s Woodpecker because those birds fancied the tree, then just Pecker, it was renamed after Loammi Baldwin of Woburn, MA,
who propagated and popularized it. From a 1OO-year-old tree. Residual sugar 2.5 percent. Round flavor, very pleasant appley.
Very popular. 86O cases.
REINE de POMME Archaic French cultivar. Contains some Pippin. Complex, full bodied. Lovely texture. A little tannin. 14O cases.
HERITAGE APPLE A sweet blend of several varieties. Pleasant.