A continuous belt press at Tulip Valley Orchard and Vineyard in Mount Vernon, Washington.
Making cider is similar to making white wine, says Lars Ringsrud, cider blender and marketer at Snowdrift Cider Company in East Wenatchee, Washington.
For cider, apples are typically picked at a more advanced maturity than those destined for the fresh market.
Snowdrift presses apples from September through January, so some of the fruit is put into storage after harvest and used as needed. Some varieties require a month or so in storage to complete the conversion of starch to sugar, Ringsrud said.
Part of the blending of the varieties is done as the apples go into the press in order to achieve the target sugar and pH levels. The fermented juice will be blended again before bottling. Ringsrud said the cidery pressed about 30 different apple varieties last year. A single bottle of cider could contain the juice of five to ten varieties.
The apples are crushed, and, for some blends, the juice is left to macerate with the pulp before pressing to soften the tannins and improve the color and aromatics. Then, the juice is squeezed out and pumped into fermentation tanks and the remaining pomace is used as a compost in the orchard. Sulfites are added to the juice, as in winemaking, to kill the natural yeasts before champagne yeasts are added. Ringsrud said some cider makers use natural yeasts, and Snowdrift might experiment with that as its production increases.
The juice is left to ferment at a temperature of 64 to 68°F for four to twelve weeks. Then it’s racked into another tank to mature for six to eight months. This is where Ringsrud does the second round of blending, when he has a better idea of what he has to work with. Because apple juice is not as sweet as grape juice, it’s not possible to ferment it to 7 percent alcohol and still have much residual sugar, so sugar is added to balance the sweetness.
Most of the cider is force carbonated before bottling, then pasteurized to kill any remaining yeast cells and to prevent refermentation in the bottles. A small volume of the best blends are bottled with yeast and sugar and left to ferment again in the bottle for several months. As in champagne production, the yeast sediment is disgorged, and the bottles topped up and resealed before being released.