Stained Glass: Beyond Wine—Pomolgy, Part Deux | Varyer
A brown-toned close up illustration of apples.

Stained Glass

Beyond Wine—
Pomology, Part Deux

In the last Stained Glass, I diverted attention away from wine, yet still kept things within the perspectives of wine industry folks and what they like to drink other than solely fermented grape juice. By the time I wrapped up those words on spirits, vermouth, and cocktails, a feeling of guilt had swept over me, “I didn’t even talk about cider 😔.” It’s a growing and nuanced category of beverage that deserves every bit of attention, especially when considering its historical relevance.

There are apple cider lovers all over Europe and the Americas. It’s a heritage beverage established and planted on humble roots but carries more significance than most people know. If you grew up in Ohio, as I did, the story of Johnny Appleseed is likely standard teaching material. He planted his apple orchards from seed with varieties that were more suited for hard cider, much different than the sweeter, edible culinary varieties we’re familiar with today. Like the westward Spanish Catholic missionaries that first planted grapes in Mexico and the Americas in the early 17th century, Johnny Appleseed was also spreading agriculture and prospecting land, along with his particular message of faith.

Looking back even further, there are many examples of religion and fermented beverages coming with the territory. Cistercian monks have been brewing beer for centuries in Europe, today there is even one lone Trappist brewery in the US – Spencer Brewery in Massachusetts. In Lazio, Italy there are nuns who are part of a monastery that makes a perennial favorite wine under the tutelage of legendary winemaker Giampiero Bea called Coenobium. He helped guide them towards sustainable and natural farming methods to support their winemaking void of technology, truly made the old way. Other liquors such as Benedictine, created in the Abbey of Fécamp in Normandy, France, and much beloved Chartreuse, made from 130 mountain herbs and botanicals are still produced under ultra-secret recipes protected by the Monastic order. A big part of the commitment to certain religions and specific sects that produce alcohol is directly linked to cultivation and agriculture and is what sustains them and their homes, for generations past, present, and future. These sorts of practices are rooted in a purpose to seek and serve God.

Another way to look at brewing and cider-making as sustenance is through the nutritional lens of fermentation. In America, during the early 1800s cider was safer to drink than water because the fermentation would kill dangerous bacteria. The acidity also helped with digestion, consumed with meals and throughout the day by men, women, and children. Thinking about American expansion and what sort of resources were needed for human fuel, it’s hard to ignore the role cider played in this developing world. It’s said that the average person consumed over 20 gallons of alcohol in a year and three-quarters of it was hard cider.

Fast forward to today and we look at fruit pomology for many forms of sustenance. Generally, in the world of alcoholic beverages, wine has solidified itself as only made from grapes. The truth is you can make wine from any fruit.

Pomology is a branch of botany that studies fruit and its cultivation. Pomological research is mainly focused on the development, enhancement, cultivation, and physiological studies of fruit trees.

An illustration of several yellow apples within one another reads "yellow belleflower."
A selection of text from "Hooper's Western Fruit Book."

Fable Farm in Vermont produces some of the most exciting wines from apples, grapes, saps, botanicals, and honey. Their almost spiritual ethos of cider as wine and cultivating microorganisms echo the same time-honored tradition practiced by those mentioned above. They’re based in the foothills of Central Vermont and adhere to principles of terroir, grounded in a process of arboreal archeology, a term borrowed from a book by Isabella and Livio Dalla Ragione, a couple in Umbria that has resurrected many ancient varieties of fruit from near extinction.

There are many people around the world seeking to preserve the fruits of the agricultural past in the face of homogeneity. It’s important to broadcast the message of these benevolent few, but the best way to preserve something, in a way, is to consume it! When we support these efforts by purchasing, enjoying, and spreading the message, we can begin to realize that we’re also an important part of cultivating the agricultural cycle.

Diving even further into Vermont-based beverages, there is something truly special happening there. Deidre Heekin of La Garagista Farm + Winery in Barnard is well-known for her wines made from cold-climate cultivar grapes, and her dedicated pursuit of regenerative agriculture. I encourage seeking out her ciders and vins ëd pom using grape skins to add complexity and utilize the diversity of fruit on the farm.

In the past few years, there has been an exponential rise in Piquette, a lower-alcohol fermentation of re-hydrated grape pomace, that while usually only grape-based, there are some examples where everything from milled apple pulp to chamomile and other herbs is tossed in the mix. It’s certainly a really fun and creative way to use everything, even the dregs, but Piquette has many critics and it’s often not considered a true wine. That’s where the rise of multi-fruit co-ferments has more intention, a similar aim at sustainability, and puts a new emphasis on the producer’s creativity, not just the idea of terroir and place.

An orange-toned illustration of many apples, with two men's portraits in the middle.

Kirk Sutherland, like myself, is another sommelier who has branched out into part-time winemaking. I reached out to him recently to dive further into these multi-fruit fermentations.

“Cider has always relatively successful in NYC, but it's certainly having a moment again. New York has a very deep history with cider, and thanks to people like Erik and Benford from Floral Terranes we've seen a renewed appreciation for pure, sometimes even still cider made just outside the city. Back when I was still at Blanca, we always had a cider in the pairing because I think the category is more than just something fun to drink, there is the historical significance of the beverage and such a vast array of styles that work amazingly well with all sorts of dishes.” He continues, “Yes, I totally think these multi-fruit beverages are valid and should be taken more seriously. Around the world, all sorts of different cultures have worked with fruits other than grapes to make wines. The cultural hegemony of grapes is nothing new, and I think the introduction of these new styles breaks up the monotony of what we bring to the dinner table. These wines are exciting, fascinating, and (hopefully) unpretentious.”

Last year for his label Erde which he makes at Division Wine in Portland, Oregon he acquired some apples and pears from a friend Laura Brennen. “I shredded the fruit by hand with some whole clusters of Gamay and Syrah, then added crushed Cabernet Sauvignon skins. These all macerated together for 48 hours before being pressed over Chenin skins. I then added some fermenting Nebbiolo rosé before bottling to get some extra sugar for the bubbles.” This is truly off-the-cuff winemaking, but it’s also a product of working in a winery with a ton of things going on any given day. Think of a chef, reaching for every ingredient within an arm's reach. Clearly, he’s not trying to follow any footsteps or even create a new style altogether, but it further emphasizes Kirk’s story of spicing things up along the way. I asked him if there were any examples of multi-fruit co-fermentations that he’s had lately that stand out. “I recently tasted the Ashanta wines, and they are outstanding. We got to have some of their itty-bitty Brutal release, which is a Pétnat of French Colombard and wild foraged Elderberries. It was insanely delicious, and I really hope that Chenoa and Will make more of it this year.”

Several yellow pears with text that reads "Bartlett pear."

Süssreserve (German: Süßreserve, literally meaning "sweet reserve") is a wine term referring to a portion of selected unfermented grape must, free of microorganisms, to be added to wine as a sweetening component.

A peach with a flower and insect on it.

Photograph by William Mullan

I recently created a beverage program for a local juice bar here in Cincinnati called Rooted. In addition to wine and cocktails made with fresh juice blends, I wanted to emphasize cider and this multi-fruit wine category. One bottle in particular that jumped out called, This is Not Wine from Subject to Change in California, ferments apple juice with pressed pinot noir skins and after fermentation adds a süssreserve of Merlot must for re-fermentation in the bottle. Mark Mueller of Voyager Beverage, based out of Columbus, Ohio, who distributes STC as well as Dunham’s Quince-Apple cider had some things to say about the benefits of supporting the polyculture of multi-fruit wines. “The flavors are exciting and unexplored. Many don’t know the potential for these beverages, the fruit is cheaper than grapes, by and large, so producers can create cheaper organic products for consumers, but also provide better margins for them, and fruit trees are also more tolerant to climate change.”

Steve and Jill Matthiasson found themselves with a surplus of heirloom Fay Elberta peaches last year due to most restaurants closing and decided to create a low-alcohol, spritzy peach wine blended with Linda Vista Vineyard Chardonnay. Sounds delicious, right?! The label is a beautiful, surreal photograph of a couple of bees flirting with a fuzzy peach and a Zinnia flower. After some sleuthing around I came across the artist responsible–William Mullan, also known as @pomme_queen, and for his website Odd Apples which features his eye-watering photography of obscure apple varieties and other glamorous flora. A deep dive into his work reveals true love for these motley fruits (and his adorable slug Alex G.), not just for how he captures them, but also for the history and stories that go along with each variety. I reached out to him to ask, “Why apples?”

“The genus of Malus domestica has between 42,000 and 44,700 genes, over 14,000 more than the human genome, and the potential for different characteristic expressions are vast and molded by a variety of conditions—everything from the soil, climate, neighboring trees, and environmental stress to pollinators and human intervention will shape the way an apple looks and tastes. There are an estimated 7,000 cultivars of M. domestica alone. Even if you were to say half of these are duplicates, 3,000+ different cultivars is an astounding number, especially when you look at how different they can be in character. The apple is expressive, wild, funny, and strange. It is, in a word, odd!

“My own personal, you might say serious, relationship with apples began in 2006 or something like that when I was living in the UK as a teenager. I'm not sure if it was fate or if I really owe whoever curated the apples at this supermarket called Waitrose. They would carry popular British apples in autumn with names that, to this American, seemed charmingly regal: Cox Orange Pippin, Bramley’s Seedling, Egremont Russet. While Cox Orange Pippin seems to get most of the cultural attention, it was the Egremont Russet that caught my eye, with its particularly funny moniker and even more peculiar visual resemblance to a gold-sprayed potato. I was really amused to see it nestled next to the typical pristine, two-syllable club apples that dominate most American supermarkets: Granny Smiths, Galas, Fujis, and Pink Lady. It was perhaps the ugliest apple I had ever seen—by the standards set in supermarkets, and yet there was something beautiful about it to me and I had to have it. On the way home, I ate one, and you could say it was love at first bite (if it wasn’t already an irrational love at first sight). I was overwhelmed with layers of flavor that conjured the warm ciders I drank in the Midwest before I hit the double digits; the roasted-chestnut stands I frequented in winter in London; and the feeling of rolling in rust-colored dead leaves on a crisp autumn day. I was taken from my past to the present in one bite. I had no idea an apple could do that. I’ve been obsessed ever since.”

William’s passion illustrates that preservation is so much more than creating, cultivating, farming, or consuming. It’s sharing the love of the lesser-known with others that can ignite and inspire us to emancipate ourselves from the drab, spiritless nature of large-scale commodities.

Author Rowan Jacobson, who also preserves things through his passion, writes about oysters with the same kind of love I feel for ciders and co-fermentations. “Art is something we experience not to fill any basic needs but instead to learn about ourselves and our connections to the world. Food is rarely art. We eat to fill our bellies. We eat to sustain ourselves. We eat because we must. Oysters come pretty close to breaking this connection. No one fills up on them. They are taste sundered from satiation. We do not eat them to satisfy any needs—except for our need to experience.”

A yellow peach with text that reads "Rodman's red cling."

Other Producers, Beverages,
and such to seek out: