On Saturday, November 8th, a group of about 30 people gathered at Mountain Rose Vineyard in Wise, VA for The Harvest: Wise County Apple Days, an event focused on Apples, Hard Apple Cider, and the potential for new economic engines in our region based on these industries. The event was hosted by Appalachian Communities Encouraging Economic Diversity, or AppalCEED.
The group gathered for a potluck lunch, and started by getting to know eachother. In attendance were local apple growers, small business owners, brewers and people enthusiastic about building a more diverse economy in Southwest Virginia.
After lunch, Suzanne Lawson, owner of Mountain Rose Vineyard, took the group on a tour of the Vineyard. She explained some of the difficulties they’ve had in remediating the soil on the property, a former strip mine, to make it suitable for successful grape growing. They’ve tried everything, she explained, dozens of different cover crops, compost, horse manure. Despite set backs over the years, their grapes are growing well now, and they are producing tons of grapes for wine production.
During the tour, Lawson described some of the difficulties that face small producers of any agricultural product, but especially those involved in selling alcohol. Federal, State and local laws create a web of paper work to track every grape involved in making their wine, and every bottle, once produced.
After the tour, the group sat down for a presentation by Jeff Irvin, instructor and Brewmaster at Asheville-Buncombe Technical Community College in Asheville, NC. The school has the first program in the country to offer an accredited program and associate’s degree in brewing, fermentation and distillation.
The engaging presentation focused on the basic how-to’s of Apple Cider brewing, from picking the right apples at the right time, to learning to develop a taste pallet for testing ciders and apples, to the equipment and materials needed for commercial cider production to the need for unique and creative marketing. Perhaps one of the most exciting moments of the day came when Mr. Irvin pointed to the rapid growth of the apple cider business.
Since 2012, volume of Apple Cider sales have risen by 70%, and in the last two years, big players in the beer and wine business, like Anheuser-Busch, Miller and Sam Adams have all purchased large Hard Cider companies. This interest from large corporations shows that they believe the recent rapid growth in Hard Cider sales is destined to continue. Just in the Asheville area, six new cideries have opened in the last few years.
Especially relevant to Wise County and Southwest Virginia, where the climate is beneficial to growing apples, the rise in demand for Hard Cider, and for the apples needed to make it, could be a boon for a return of the apple industry which once flourished in our area.
The event wrapped with up with the giving of door prizes, including Wise County Historical Society’s book, Wise County’s Apple Blossoms of Yesteryear, which highlights the many many small apple farms that once dotted the hills and hollers of our area.
The next AppalCEED event is not yet set, but stay tuned, and get in touch if you’d like to get involved in building new economies in Southwest Virginia!