I will be attending CiderCon 2022, the annual trade conference of the American Cider Association that will be held in Richmond, Virginia from February 2nd-4th, with excursions scheduled for two days prior. The conference consists of about fifty speakers participating in dozens of educational sessions from guided sensory exploration of ciders to historical heirloom apples to finding faults in cider tasting. Check out the speakers and schedule. I will be posting producer and content creator focused information here on BevFluence and more consumer-focused content on the WineCompass Blog.
The Keynote Address will be given by Diane Flynt, the proprietor of Foggy Ridge Cider in Dagspur Virginia and the first licensed cidery in the South. Community members who attended the 2011 Wine Bloggers Conference may have met Diane or tasted her exceptional Serious Cider or HomeMade ciders. For two decades she was the face of the Virginia cider industry and at times on a regional and national level and a valuable grower of American heirloom apples and traditional English and French cider apples. Her keynote at CiderCon 2022 is titled Lessons for the 21st Century: The Surprising History of Southern Apples & Cider and What This Means for Modern Growers & Makers and is based on research she has conducted for a book that will be published by the University of North Carolina Press.
Ms. Flynt was gracious enough to answer a few questions I posed regarding the cider industry and how content creators can assist in promoting the industry.
What have you been doing since the last release of Foggy Ridge ciders?
Since releasing Foggy Ridge Cider’s Final Call blend in 2018, we have sold our apples to cidermakers in Virginia, North Carolina, and Tennessee. In early 2020 I signed a contract with the University of North Carolina Press to write a general trade book on the history of apples in the South. This book focuses on the stories and history behind the South’s almost 2,000 apple varieties. Through research at University Special Collections, the National Agricultural Library, and interviews with multi-generation apple growers I’ve learned surprising stories about southern apples. The book should be published in 2023.
What headwinds is the cider industry facing today and in the near future?
Apples are a more expensive ingredient than grain or other ingredients used in beer and spirits, yet consumers are not yet willing in large enough numbers to pay a premium for cider. The connection between cider and beer—as opposed to cider and wine, grapes being also expensive to grow and ferment—has diminished our industry’s ability to command prices that lead to sustainability for producers who make cider from apples that confer complex flavor. As an industry, we need to make a stronger connection—an authentic connection—between apples and cider. And I’d add, for complex fine cider, the connection should include place.
Within the industry, have apple growers convalesced around a few apple varieties, or is there more experimentation with unique and unknown heirloom varieties? There are two directions here—academic-based apple breeding programs are producing more modern apples, geared to market research on consumer preferences as well as production factors. And a small but growing number of orchardists are going back to varieties that flourished in earlier centuries, in part to satisfy demand from cidermakers but also to explore varieties that will perform in a warmer climate.
What can content creators do better or more in helping to promote the cider industry?
Many in the cider world are proud to say we are a “big tent” industry, and that there is a place for every price point, every method of production, and every quality level for ingredients…from apple juice concentrate to estate-grown cider apples. While this view has merits, it also flattens the discussion. I’d like to see content creators dig deeper into the ingredients and production methods of top-quality cider. Content creators are smart people, “thinking drinkers” if you will, and you should be able to see what is a “marketing message” from producers and what is an authentic practice or value that is carried out in cider-making every day. I see too much content that seems generated by a PR engine for a cider company large enough to hire a PR engine.
What should producers be focused on to strengthen the industry?
Authentic stories about ingredients. And if the producer is also a grower and actually grows enough apples to have “place” reflected in their cider, they should certainly be talking about the influence of terroir or the history of place has on their cider and methods.
And for a little amusement, here is Diane and I a decade ago discussing Foggy Ridge Cider with the Reverend Peyton’s Big Damn Band.