In the early 1900s, before vineyards grew in popularity, it was apples that dominated the Sebastopol agricultural landscape. Orchards, canning factories, and packing sheds dotted the area, with apple products transported around the country by railcar. The most common variety was the Gravenstein, believed to have been introduced locally by Russian trappers at nearby Fort Ross around 1812. Yet with the rise in demand for wine grapes toward the end of the 20th century, most of the local orchards were slowly replaced with vineyards. The same cool, mid-coastal climate and sandy loam Goldridge soil that so benefit apple farming in the area are highly favorable conditions for grapes as well.
Nevertheless, a few orchards remain, and the local hard cider industry has been enjoying a recent renaissance. Other heirloom apple varietals have been replanted, yet the Gravenstein remains a regional favorite. Additional small nods to Sebastopol’s modern horticultural history can be found scattered around the rural area, including a handful of apple trees planted on our Biodynamic estate vineyard and farm in the hills just west of town. Although wine growers first, we prioritize agricultural biodiversity and balance, choosing to nurture and utilize the existing orchard fruit in addition to the vineyard acres. It’s also impossible to ignore the allure of the Gravenstein, because as apples go, this one is extra special. The first of the season to ripen, and featuring complex aromatics and crisp, sweet-tart flavor, Gravensteins are ideal for cider. Thus it only made sense that in 2015, using apples from our estate farm as well as those from select West County neighbors, we fermented our first batch of hard cider.
In addition to our estate, we continue to source apples from local, organic, dry farmed orchards, focusing primarily on Gravensteins, along with a few later-ripening varietals like Rome and Pippens. Our “OG,” or Original Gravenstein, cider is a solera barrel-aged staple, delicious on its own or as the foundation for seasonal co-ferments and infusions that capture the character of the local landscape. As the producers behind Radio-Coteau and County Line Vineyards wines, we center our ciders around fruits and infusions that ripen before or after the grape harvest. Fresh redwood tips in spring, oro blanco in winter, and blackberries and plums in fall – all work well around the grape production timetable. Always native fermented, unfiltered, and without added sulfites, our ciders are refreshing, artisanal encapsulations of the western Sonoma County landscape.
What's in a Name?
While the fruits of our first apple harvest were fermenting in the cellar, the name Eye Cyder sprung forth from the poetic observation of our good friend, master mason, and spiritual advisor, Barefoot Willie:
First came the computer
Then came the iPhone
Next came the iPad
Now there is... Eye Cyder
Instead of “i,” Eye is an affectionate salute to our first farm feline, the original one-eyed cat we inherited upon purchasing the estate, the self-anointed head tomcat in charge, “Number One.” Cyder is the traditional English spelling and a modern English variant of cider, as well as an alliteratively pleasing accompaniment to the Eye.
Barefoot Willie's original tasting notes:
The first thing one notices is the nose, which is incredibly reminiscent of a Himalayan Yeti after this wonderful creature has just feasted on a meal of bango bongo berries. This light and delicate aroma is then followed by your first sip. That is when you realize that the Yeti was not eating bango bongo berries, but delicious Gravenstein apples that were in the backpack of the mountain climber he just ate for lunch.
As you partake in this glass of Eye Cyder, you come to grips with the tasty journey you have chosen to take. First in Nepal, and as the journey goes on, via whatever route you choose to travel, you will eventually end up on those loamy, earthy, well balanced soils of Western Sonoma County.
What you do on your adventure thru this glass of Eye Cyder is up to you. All we know is the most likely first words out of your mouth after finishing your pint are “Book me another trip bartender.”