High Summer Orchard Party Toasts Cider, More

The Recorder, July 26th, 2015, by Richie Davis.

It’s picnic time in Peckville.

Imagine a late-afternoon gathering in an old apple orchard in the timeless section of this hilltown known for knolls capped with rows of apple trees from the days when its was Peckville and the Peck brothers ran Valley View Orchard.

Now, with West County Cider planning to return part of that land to production of hard-cider, as well as an Apex Orchards’ pick-your-own fruit operation planned for 2016, it’s time to celebrate, with a “High Summer Orchard Party” featuring hard cider, food from area farms and live music.

The party, planned for Sunday, Aug. 2, from 4 to 6 p.m. in the field at 206 Peckville Road, is planned by West County Cider and Artifact Cider Project — a year-old, Springfield-based artisan cidermaker that’s turning out about 4,500 gallons of cider this year from Shelburne, Deerfield, Buckland and Colrain.

Colrain is also the name of one of Artifact’s four blends of craft ciders that are sold in about 40 liquor stores, wine shops and markets and served in bottles and on tap at Seymour’s in Greenfield. “We saw the need for dry artisan, draft ciders,” says Artifact co-owner Jake Mazar, who’d lived in Boston but began farming about three years ago and also is a partner in the Amherst-based Wheelhouse Farm Truck business that will cater Sunday’s event with Pioneer Valley-produced vegetables and meats.
He claims that West County Cider — the 30-year-old, Catamount Hill grand-daddy of commercial hard cider that, like Artifact, also produces about 5,000 gallons of cider pressed at Pine Hill Orchards — was “the first cider I fell in love with. It’s really been an inspiration for me.”

In addition to “Colrain,” a blend of empire and reine de pomme apple cider with a hint of cinnamon and maple syrup, Artifact makes “Wild Thing,” a McIntosh-dominated cider fermented with yeast from the apples themselves, “New World,” that boasts a “layered complexity” from Baldwins, Northern Spies, russets and macs and “Buzzworthy, a dry, tart cider made with apple-blossom honey from Deerfield’s Warm Colors Apiary.”

The apples themselves come from Tip Top Orchard in Buckland, Wheel-View Farm and Apex in Shelburne and from West County’s own five-acre orchard of heirloom varieties that Field Maloney says his parents first planted as a source for their cider.

West County in May 2014 bought 62 acres where Sunday’s event is planned. There, the cider-making operation plans to plant 1,500 dwarf Redfield trees on about five acres of the cleared orchard next spring — the first of an 11-acre orchard it plans to plant over the next five to 10 years to support a tasting room and store there. The Redfields, with a tart, scarlet flesh when you bite into it, creates a rose-colored, mid-dry cider. It is one of about 30 apple varieties the Maloneys first planted in 1986 in a small North Catamount Hill orchard when they sought to bring back hard cider-making from its nearly-forgotten lore-filled tradition.

On Peckville Road, where the Pecks had a storehouse for Valley View, Maloney says there are plans for what is hoped to become West County Winery’s first retail sales outlet.

“When I’m on this road, I get so happy,” he says, because cars passing by actually stop to take in the breathtaking scenery. Looking out over orchards, where could be a better place to offer people cider?

Across the road, up the hill, Apex owner Tim Smith says he plans to offer pick-your-own apples, peaches and cherries in an orchard that’s just in its third year. Work on what will be a store there will begin this fall and into the winter to service what he expects will eventually be about eight acres of apple trees, two acres of peach trees as well as cherries beginning next year.

With a dramatically renewed interest in hard cider — piggybacking on the popularity of craft beer and close-to-the-earth foods — there’s a rebirth of hope for New England’s apple orchards that had seen some dismal years yielding what was seen as a commodity up against stiff competition from China and elsewhere. And Franklin County, with two hard-cider producers in Ashfield alone, has reason to celebrate what Mazar and Maloney say could be the alcoholic beverage that may be the fastest-growing in popularity.

“We’re just trying to promote local cider,” Maloney says. “A lot of people don’t realize we live in this place where so many apples are produced and that we have some of the best hard cider in the entire country. We want to highlight that use of the land in a way to showcase how truly amazing this part of country is for hard cider. And we’ve got a little apple corridor here.”

For that, the cider producers have secured a one-day liquor license to sell their cider and plan to bring in musicians and the Wheelhouse Farm Truck selling arepas — corn-pocket sandwiches stuffed with locally produced brisket, pulled pork or chicken, and stir-fried vegetables with peanut sauce.

Because Sunday’s event will depend on good weather, Mazar advises people to check Artifact Cider’s Facebook page in case there’s a chance it may be rained out. On the Web: www.westcountycider.com www.artifactcider.com

You can reach Richie Davis at: rdavis@recorder.com or 413-772-0261, ext. 269

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