Managing an Apple Orchard

Take a close-up look at the process of managing an apple orchard and tips on apples that make quality homemade cider.

| November 2014

Apple quality

Figure 4.1. Cultural practice effects on apple quality.

Photo courtesy Chelsea Green

The New Cider Maker's Handbook (Chelsea Green, 2013), shows you how to make the very best cider-whether for yourself, your family, and friends or for market-you first need a deep understanding of the processes involved, and the art and science behind them. Fortunately, The New Cider Maker's Handbook is here to help. Author Claude Jolicoeur is an internationally known, award-winning cider maker with an inquiring, scientific mind. His book combines the best of traditional knowledge and techniques with up-to-date, scientifically based practices to provide today's cider makers with all the tools they need to produce high-quality ciders. The following excerpt from chapter 4 provides important information on managing an apple orchard and producing high-quality homemade apple cider.

You can purchase this book from the MOTHER EARTH NEWS store: The New Cider Maker's Handbook


I present here my personal views on how to manage an orchard to produce high-quality apples for cider. These views correspond to the way I manage my own small orchard. In particular, you will see that I believe the best apples for cider come from low-productivity orchards.

As mentioned above, the first principle to always bear in mind is that cider-apple growing is different. If you permit me an analogy with wine: could you imagine that a wine maker would make his wine from table grapes? Worse, could you imagine that a law would require a wine maker to be a commercial producer of table grapes in order to sell his wine? Table grapes and wine grapes are two different things; they are not grown in the same way or by the same people. Why should it be different for apples and cider? Well, even if the answer seems obvious, the reality isn’t always so simple.

For example, in Quebec in the 1970s, a law was voted to rule the commercial production of cider. This new legislation stipulated that only commercial apple producers could become cider makers and obtain the right to sell their products. The underlying intent was to find a market for surplus apples. Naturally, what had to happen did happen: the law provoked a boom in industrial cider production. But the quality wasn’t there because the cider wasn’t being produced from appropriate apples, and soon production decreased, as no one wanted to drink the cider, even if was very inexpensive.

Also, many commercially produced ciders come from cideries that are first and foremost commercial orchards that grow apples to eat. For them, cider production is often a way to increase the value of the lower-grade apples they can’t sell at a good price. So the apples they use for their cider are the same varieties as their mainstream table apples: they are grown on a large scale using techniques aimed at increasing the productivity and maximizing the attractiveness of the fruit. This is far from ideal for cider making, as I show below; if you seek quality—and I am talking here about the quality of a grand cru cider, which may be compared with a great wine or a Champagne—then you must find other ways to obtain the fruit quality required for such great ciders.

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