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MAY 2024/ OUT-CIDER

INTRO

This month of May in the year 2024 marks three years for Caravan Wine Shop, which also marks 3 years of Club Caravan, which means we have written 36 issues about different aspects of winemaking, wine growing, wine culture, and wine history.  In all this time, we never stopped to say what wine is. We just thought everyone knew.  And you do, don’t you?  It’s simple, really, maybe even more simple than you thought.  Wine is fermented fruit juice.  That’s it.  It’s not fermented grape juice, it's just fermented fruit juice.  You may have had strawberry wine or dandelion wine before and noticed its uniqueness as well as its relativity to wine you’ve tasted before.  Cider is no different.  Most cider, especially natural cider, goes through the same process as grapes when making wine.  We just never call it Apple Wine or Pear Wine, which is essentially what it is.  Grapes have grown into the supreme position of unspoken assumption when talking about wine.  This is because grapes themselves display a fabulous cooperation between the “big three” elements one looks for when drinking wine: sugar, acidity, and tannin.  With 10,000 wine grape varieties worldwide, there are a lot of opportunities to play with these three elements in different ways.  However, many other fruits like apples (who boast 30,000 different varieties worldwide) can offer interesting interactions between these tastes and textures that are worth exploring.  Breaking free from a definition of wine that only refers to grapes, and expanding it to mean fermented juice from any fruit, gives us the chance to better understand the importance of people and place in the making of wine.  The fruit base of course will add its own unique note as it goes through pressing, maceration (letting the solids and liquids of the fruit sit together), fermentation, and bottling, but what will really make the wine stand out are the decisions that the winemaker has made and the effect of the soil and microorganisms in the land of the fruit that has been harvested.


In the spirit of this expanded definition of wine, this month we have supplied you with 2 bottles of wine from Wisconsin producer Las Mujeres; one apple and one grape.  As we taste through two different styles of picked and pressed wine, we will also be comparing apples to grapes in the “big three” categories: sugar, acidity, and tannins.  Through the contrast of another fruit, we hope to gain a deeper awareness of the potential wine in each base and a better sense of the role people and place play in the final product.

 

1. Sugar

So many factors can impact sweetness in wine: the variety/ strain of fruit, ripening time, maceration time, the strain of yeast, sometimes even the vessel in which the wine is fermenting can make a small contribution.  No matter the fruit, the role of sugar is important in winemaking throughout the entire process.  First, it is used as food for the yeast which then in turn creates carbonation and alcohol.  This is to say, that without sugar, there would be no alcohol at all- in anything!  So, thank you sugar in all the many many forms you take.  Secondly, it is used for taste.  The more residual sugar left from the fruit, the fruitier, the wine will taste.  This can range from a bone dry almost saline flavor, to a big round bouncing ball of fruit sensation.  And this is where the winemaker changes from scientist to artist.  There are a number of opportunities along the way to decide how sweet your wine will be.  Do you pick your fruit early, or at perfect ripeness?  Or beyond ripe?  Do you macerate the fruit in its juices for a long time or not at all? Do you ferment for a long or short time?  Or do you bottle immediately?  Do you add honey or additional sweeteners?  Each decision is a new brushstroke on the canvas that leads to a complete picture.  And the final product is an expression of what the artist/ winemaker thinks is the most beautiful message to send.  Whether you are making wine from grapes or apples, you can achieve an infinite number of tastes just playing with these factors alone.

Of course there are also elements beyond the winemaker’s control which lead us to the influence of place or terroir on the sugar content.  This is mostly experienced through the earth, (whether the fruit is growing in soil, or rock, or clay) and the climate.  Those factors can even make the same strain of fruit taste differently in different places.  Then there is the nature of the fruit itself.  Apples, for example, have a long harvest season; ranging from the summer solstice to the first snow.  Historically cider was even made by the farmers as a gift to their laborers at the end of the harvest season in the fall.  Depending on the type of climate your apples are being grown in, you might only harvest the apples that have fallen onto the ground as a measure of maximum ripeness, or if your season is shorter and cold is coming soon, you might pick your apples early and sweat them to evaporate the water and concentrate the small amount of sugar that it was able to create in its fleeting ripening time.  Grapes on the other hand have a much shorter harvest time, lasting from late August to early October.  However, as a fruit, they produce much more sugar than an apple in that short amount of time.  So how might apples and grapes grown in the same place show similarities?  The outcomes still seem infinite.


2. Acidity

The first picture that comes to mind when talking about acid is vinegar.  You can almost feel the back of your mouth tingle just seeing the word.  This is a flavor that can be found in all fruit wines because all fruits produce acids.  Grapes produce citric and tartaric acids which provide antioxidants in addition to the sharp taste.  Apples primarily produce malic acids and a small amount of ascorbic acids (aka Vitamin C).  While all of these acids bring a sour flavor to any wine, malic acid is distinct because it provides a bit more sweetness where citric acid brings the tart.  Another important role of acidity is preserving the wine so that it can last and evolve in the bottle for longer amounts of time than juices for example.  The levels of acidity in a finished wine can be reflective of a winemaker’s style, or the preferences of the intended consumer. At Caravan, we tend to prefer wines with perceptible levels of acidity, because these wines tend to pair so perfectly with a wide range of foods. However, there are plenty of people in the world who prefer wines with greater sweetness levels and less acidity. Most natural winemakers are not adding any type of acid to the grape juice or wine. But it should be known that the addition (or removal) of acids is something in the winemaker’s toolkit. Now, for the third edge in our wine triangle: Tannin.

3. Tannins

This is a topic we covered back in the June 2023 issue called “Say Tannic”.  Now that you are a member, if you want to learn more about tannins in grapes, you can find a link to the complete collection of Club Caravan issues in your membership portal!

In the meantime, let’s review.  Tannins are a really interesting element in your taste experience because it is not a flavor as much as a sensation.  Tannins give a wine texture and body through a chemical reaction between an organic compound found in all plants called phenol and proteins found in your saliva.  Depending on the number of phenols available (more before ripeness than after) you might taste a more tannic wine which comes across as astringent and puckering, a medium tannic wine which is tart and crisp, or a light tannic wine that is more soft and elegant.  Grapes produce most of their tannins in their skins, seeds, and stems, therefore wine becomes more tannic the longer you allow the fruit to macerate with its counterparts.  However apples produce tannins from all their parts from skin to flesh.  During fermentation, it is the flesh of the apples that produce the most tannins.  And because of this, it makes the variety of apple chosen an important factor in the experience a winemaker is trying to create.  Crab apples by their name alert you to the extra tartness they provide, and often wild apples make a more tannic wine as well.  But with 30,000 varieties to pick from, this is yet another example of how the role of the maker and the role of the place work in tandem to bring us countless unique drinking experiences.  Once again, the artistry of the winemaker’s decisions on whether to hand pick their fruit or over- ripen them, how long to macerate or press can direct the concentration of phenols like a conductor over an orchestra.  And there is a reason an orchestra plays in a concert hall.  The location of where and how the fruit grows is like the effect of acoustics on live music.  Knowing how to work with the environment you are in can create an experience you are unable to find anywhere else.

 

THE PRODUCER

LAS MUJERES

Wisconsin, Readstown

 

As written by the family at Las Mujeres: 

"Las Mujeres is a 20 acre family farm and winery in Readstown, Wisconsin. Our agricultural practice is one of reforestation and rewilding. We want the forest, its fruits, and their natural processes to reveal whatever is hidden in the earth.

Up a steep and rugged hill sit old, wild, and dense apple woods. On each side of those woods sit 1 hectare fields of former cow pasture that are quickly returning to forest. We don’t mow, graze, or plow, allowing volunteer trees to pop up everywhere, most of them apple. We’ve planted wine grapes alongside the volunteers and more fruit trees to speed the reforestation effort along. We’re growing the grapes up onto the trees. We don’t spray anything. Beetles are managed by spiders, toads, our hands, and patience.

August through October, ripe fruit comes into the winery. Most of it is apples and grapes, but there are increasingly some pears, peaches, and other fruits that need using. A quarter of the fruit is from our farm and the rest comes from a handful of like-minded partner farms in the area. We crush, macerate, press into barrel, blending as we go, bottle 9-15 months later, and age in bottle at least 6 months before selling...nothing ever added and nothing taken away. We macerate all fruits, meaning we macerate apples, pears, peaches, etc., in addition to macerating our grapes. We direct-press a small amount of our fruit, and when we do, we always take the direct-press pomace and macerate it with freshly crushed fruit. We started this in 2023 and we’re finding that it’s bringing out aromatics with beautiful salinity.

We make still ciders, still wines, and sparkling piquettes. We ferment everything dry. We make our piquettes by macerating pomace with water. We sparkle them by bottling them with a tiny bit of sweetness still in them so they finish fermenting in bottle. We like piquette with bubbles, because it brings life to the light residual flavor of the fruit left over after first press. We make our ciders and wines still, because we find that to be the most satisfying expression of the profoundly delicious fruit we grow and gather."

WINE 1

 

Las Mujeres, Green Label Cider

Still dry cider. 7% abv. This is the first cider we ever made.

Many varieties of uncommon eating apples grown by Chris

and Juli at Blue Roof Orchard in Belmont, WI such as

Crimson Gold, Priscilla, Liberty, Williams Pride. 7 day

maceration, 9 months in barrel, a year and a half now in

bottle. This cider is super crisp and clean, and the age it’s

gotten in the cave has brought balance and elegance to the

acidity. Reminds us a little of vinho verde.

 

WINE 2

 

Piquette Cider 2023

Lightly sparkled dry cider. 3% abv. Pomace from our Cider

macerated with water for 2 days, pressed off into barrels and left to continue fermenting through the winter. Then, before fermentation finishes, we bottle and capture a little residual CO2 as fermentation ends. 

Effervescent weird fruit. This is what we drink

on the farm.

 


Keithoughts

Our first contact with the ciders of Las Mujeres was at a very relaxed tasting with their cider maker, Tony Bezsylko. He and I tasted through their lineup of wines (ciders) and this is where I discovered how much these bottles reminded me of wine…grape wine! I was instantly drawn into these bottles because they are not trying to conform to any flavor trends or fashions within the cider & wine world. They are a true reflection of their terroir. So, in that regard only, they are similar to other terroir-driven wines. The experience of drinking them was thought provoking, complex, aromatically rich, and overall wonderfully tasty. While the experience of drinking them reminded me of drinking wines made from grapes, in actuality, of course, these ciders are not grape wines, they are apple wines. And, because of that, they also offer something so completely different from grapes. The acid, the tannin, the sugars, the source, the winemaker. All of these factors combine to make these standout bottles. The category (cider, wine, etc.) is sometimes just a doorway that we choose to walk through. And once on the other side, it’s an experience that goes beyond name.

 

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Our aim is to give a glimpse into the many roles wine has played throughout history.  All subjects mentioned deserve more attention and research and we encourage you to keep exploring.  We are only here to pop the cork.
Many Thanks, Caravan Wine Shop
* All artwork by Lenora Howl

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