If you’re wondering why we haven’t posted in a while, wonder no more! We’ve been up ladders again giving many of the trees we pick around the cidery and Port Washington a good winter pruning. That, along with finalizing our blends and preparing for bottling, has been keeping us steadily on our toes. Exciting times, tiring times—no surprise they go hand-in-hand.
It seems to me, in the cider world, pruning is a task often left out of the cidermaking narrative—perhaps because many cideries are not as involved in the growing of the apples they use. And yet it’s essential: truth be told, apple trees have been domesticated and bred for so long they really only flourish (much like cats and dairy goats) with some level of care and attention from their friends with opposable thumbs. A skilled pruning balances the tree’s structure and creates strong fruit-bearing limbs that will not break under a heavy load of fruit. It also directs the tree’s energy away from excessive, unneeded vegetative (leaf) growth, rather sending it into the fruiting spurs—those cherished little buds that flower and fruit each year. And lastly, it opens up the canopy so light can reach the fruit, and keeps disease in-check by removing as much dead and diseased growth as possible.
Ideally, unless it’s of a tip-bearing variety, the tip of almost every branch on the tree is “headed back” to about pencil-thickness and even more importantly, to an “outward bud,” as whichever direction the bud nearest your cut is facing, that is the direction in which the branch will continue to grow (see the photo bottom left). That being said, branches growing completely vertical, or branches that rub on other branches, or, in some cases, branches that cross and block the sunlight from reaching other fruiting branches, need to be thinned, ie. cut off just before the branch collar, that little ring of bark at each branch’s base.
Pruning time is essentially a repeat of harvest time, except you haul what you “pick” to the burn pile rather than the cider mill. We find it to be an enjoyably challenging task with a similarity to landscape painting in that it requires constantly stepping back and contemplating the tree's overall structure and shape.
Our other favourite task is blending cider (bottom right). After letting our racked batches mature untouched for as long as possible to avoid contamination and air exposure, we pulled out samples, considering each batch first on its and own and then deciding how best to blend them. With heritage mixed-use apples such as ours, we’re generally looking for a balanced level of acidity, body (mouthfeel), complexity of flavour, and a pleasing aroma. We’re quite excited about our batches and how well they do complement each other in different combinations.
Next month: bottling. We’re getting so close to release!