March has been “in like a Lion, out like a lamb”. The snow is melted and 50 degree days mean that the growing season on the farm has started. We’re already harvesting fresh greens from the hoop house, the peas are a foot high, and our spring transplants - cucumbers, eggplant, peppers, etc. will soon go into the hoop house. All of the animals are in a better mood now that the snow/ice has transformed into moist warm soil.
This week the federal Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) has granted Unity Farm a permit as Bonded Winery BWN-MA-21027. Can we begin selling our hard cider? Not quite. Now the State wants their licensure and I’ve completed a “State Farmer Winery and Farmer’s Market license” application. It takes real resilience to survive the multi-step process of getting every government stakeholder and regulatory body to allow a simple bottle of 5% hard cider to be sold.
As we’re preparing for commercialization, I’ve had to think about packaging and presentation. All of our ciders to date have been carbonated naturally, which leaves a layer of sediment on the bottom of the bottle. The first pour of the cider is clear, but the second pour is cloudy with disturbed sediment. Given that our ciders will be moved/transported and consumed by a variety of people used to the more sanitized commercial variety, it’s time to produce cider without sediment. There are three ways to do that
1. Serve the cider from kegs instead of bottles so the sediment rests on the bottom of the keg and is not disturbed
2. Carbonate the cider using a Cornelius keg and CO2, so that the process is sediment free. Then bottling is done from the key using the Counter Pressure method which results in a clean, carbonated bottle.
3. Methode Champenoise - invert the bottle and “riddle” the yeast to the bottle neck where it can be expelled using the pressure in the bottle and flash freezing in a brine solution.
#3 is very labor intensive and #1 works for filling growlers at the farm. I’ve decided to use #1 and #2, with bottling to be done over the next month. Of course I will pay federal alcohol taxes (17 cents per gallon) and await state licensure before selling the cider. Here’s a great overview of the cider laws.
Farming requires constant learning. Some of our fences were damaged by the tons of snow that fell over the past 3 months. I had to learn about stringing 12.5 gauge wire, using crimp sleeves, a crimp tool, and tighteners. Now with the right tools and supplies I can repair any fence line.
This weekend will be spent carbonating cider, planting our broccoli seedings and planting carrots, beets, chard by seed. I’m following our yearly calendar, anticipating the weather and doing the right activity at nature’s right time. My September fermentations are becoming April’s carbonation and May’s bottling, a total of 8 months from apple to packaging, then additional bottle aging until Fall, selling the Fall flavors of 2014 in Fall 2015.