Cider. And Paris.

CiderBack in the infancy of our relationship, I met The Hubby in Paris after a work conference he had in Belgium. I’d never been to Paris. It was our first big trip together. The trip that solidified in my mind this guy was the one. Traveling together is never easy, a true litmus test. By the end I knew The Hubby would probably become, well, The Hubby. To have it happen in Paris? Pretty spectacular.

It was also memorable because I fell in love with cider. Not Alpenglow, or apple juice, but hard cider. Effervescent, light, crisp. As refreshing as a beer on a hot summer’s day. With a light kick akin to a 2-drink minimum at a show. Just lovely.

I even remember the day it happened. We’d just toured Giverny, Monet’s country home outside Paris. The cottage walls were covered in Japanese prints and surrounded by gardens so fecund and overflowing it was like strolling through heaven. Colors bursting and exploding like fairy fireworks everywhere you turned. It helped it was June. You know the famous water lily paintings? He painted the ones in that garden. Seeing them up close has been one of the highlights of my life.

After the tour we discovered there would be a 3-hour wait for the bus back to the train station. Rather than hang around under the hot sun, we opted to wait at an inn and have lunch. Underneath a huge oak we ate and sipped an entire bottle of cider while the “sheeple” stood in line just down the road and sweated. It felt glorious. A slight breeze stirred the oak leaves, our lunch was amazing, and the cider tasted like relief. It was a tremendously perfect introduction. The bubbles tickled my nose and I fell in love with the taste, the crispness, the effervescence. Apple champagne.

Fast forward almost a decade to 2008. We’re married and have just moved from Pittsburgh to the center of apple universe, The Shenandoah Valley. I’m from Richmond, but both parents are from either ends of the valley so I spent my entire childhood at one apple festival or another. Saturday afternoons in The Apple House in Linden eating apple cider doughnuts and begging my Pop-Pop to buy me a giant inflatable Red Delicious. Or waving at the Apple Blossom Queen at the parade in Winchester.

We’d been subsisting on French cider and I was eager to sample what The Valley had to offer. I knew it was going to be good. There was just one problem. None to be had. Nothing. Nada. Zilch. The land of apples has no cider? What gives? So I continued to subsist on French cider while at the same time championing the cause to anyone who will listen. Usually to empty looks and disinterested glances. I even took a food writing class. When it was my turn to pitch a story on the history of cider and why Virginia should be producing more, the class looked at me with blank stares and gave me comments like, “Well, that’s nice, but I don’t think it will sell magazines.” Sigh.

Luckily my frustration was short-lived. Starting in 2010 Virginia cider experienced a resurgence it hasn’t seen since well before Prohibition. A major movement has taken hold in the commonwealth and there is cause for rejoicing. For we now have, THIRTEEN, count them THIRTEEN cideries. Virginia even has its own Cider Week celebrated the second week of November. Hallelujah! The apple gods heard my prayers. Not only are there cideries, there are choices!

And what choices. From Foggy Ridge, to Bold Rock, to Albemarle Ciderworks, the tasty options are endless. Then there’s one of my favorites, Potter’s Craft Cider, just two guys bottling their own cider in a 2-room warehouse out in Free Union. Nothing fancy, nothing too high-tech, just people earnest and passionate about their product. As earnest about cider production as I am about drinking it.

I’ll talk with Dan and Tim next Friday on Edacious, and Diane Flynt from Foggy Ridge two weeks after that. Each takes a different approach to blending and fermenting but the final product? Both are superior and wonderful examples of what our Commonwealth has to offer. I hope you’ll join me. Because cider is a wonderful thing. And I still can’t help but think of Paris and Monet’s water lilies every time I take a sip. Cheers.

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