Cider Week Virginia — Part 2

As in Part 1, Melissa shares her experiences at Cider Week Virginia 2013. Cider Fest was held on Saturday, November 23rd and is the marquee event of Cider Week Virginia. — Eric

the barn at castle hill
The barn at Castle Hill, site of Cider Fest

The day of the Cider Fest at Castle Hill dawned bright and clear. The festivities didn’t start until 11, so Eric and Ben made a quick trip to Beer Run in Charlottesville. I stayed behind so that Heron could get in his 9 o’clock nap before another big day. Allowing Eric to go to Beer Run unsupervised—or even worse, with Ben the beer aficionado—was like telling a preschooler “I’m just going to drop you off at the candy store for a couple of hours, honey. Here’s your piggybank.” Here’s what Eric has to say about Beer Run:

Beer Run turned out to be an excellent place for stocking up on Virginia cider, with bottles from AlbemarleBlue BeeBold RockCastle HillFoggy RidgeOld Hill, and Potter’s all in one place. I bought a few imports that I can’t find at home—Txopinondo, Le Père Jules (Brut), and Eric Bordelet (Sidre Brut Tendre and Poiré Authentique)—and convinced Ben to buy the last bottle of B. Nektar Zombie Killer, a cherry cyser. Beer Run also has a full kitchen, and we couldn’t pass up the Saturday morning breakfast taco menu: Ben opted for El Gringo while I chose The Gardener. And last but not least, Beer Run does growler fills at the bar. Potter’s Farmhouse Dry is the house cider, though I opted for a fill of Bell’s Two Hearted to give to my IPA-loving friends who were watching our dog back home.

When the dangerous duo returned from their foray, we quickly checked out of the motel, swung by Bodo’s Bagels for some seriously good bagels, then hopped back in the Subaru and headed toward Castle Hill in Keswick.

Tickets to Cider Fest were $20 each, which got us each a tasting glass and 10 drink tickets. Each drink ticket could be exchanged for a 1 to 2 ounce pour of cider from any of the six cidermakers at the festival (Bold Rock was not in attendance). Some ciders were only available by the glass, while other ciders were only available by the bottle.

Castle Hill’s picturesque barn, situated on a grassy hilltop overlooking a pond, is a perfect spot for a big event. The cidermakers were set up inside, while food vendors could be found just outside the barn’s sliding doors. It turned out to be a gorgeous day, with blue skies, sunshine, and temperatures in the mid-fifties. Families laid out picnic blankets on the lawn and watched the pick-up soccer games the children played.

11:15 am, when you could still see the cidermakers from afar
11:15 am, when you could still see the cidermakers from afar

We had arrived early. Our game plan was to space out the tastings, enjoying the grounds and each other’s company between pours. For almost an hour we sipped slowly. Civilized, we kept notes of each cider that we tasted. Then the band—Love Canon, a bluegrass-inflected ’80s tribute band—began to play and people began to pour in. Soon enough, Heron began to fuss. We went for a walk, trying to soothe him.

I had never been to Castle Hill before, and I wanted to see the kvevri that Eric had told me about. Kvevri are large terracotta amphorae used to ferment cider (or wine) in. Seven thousand years ago, amphorae were the first vessels used for the fermentation of grape juice into wine. Although most of the amphorae at Castle Hill are buried beneath the frost line, with only the lids visible, one broken six-foot tall amphora can be found on display. It was cool to glimpse a piece of history (and I was pretty excited to use the word “amphora,” too. Who knows when I would get another chance?)

Eric with the kvevri
Eric with the kvevri

After feeding Heron in the merciful calm of the tasting room and taking another walk, I returned to the car. Weary of the crowds, Eric and Ben had set up folding chairs in the parking lot. They pulled out bottles of cider. Yes, my friends, yes. Tailgating. I want it on the record: it wasn’t my idea. Eric had been holding back a bottle of Flag Hill Farm’s Sapsucker for just such a special occasion, and Ben parried with a Sidra Menéndez collected during a recent cycling trip in Mallorca. At least it was high-class tailgating.

a little extra at Castle Hill
A little extra at Castle Hill

Laughing and shaking our heads, we pulled out fistfuls of unused tickets from our pockets. Eric and I still had 11 tickets between us! With an hour and a half until the festival was done, and people still coming through the gates, we decided to try and use our tickets up. Unfortunately, the lines were unmanageable. Several cidermakers were out of one or all of their ciders, and the ciders that were left seemed to be the ones that I had already tasted! Courtney from Blue Bee had bravely manned her table all day, but she was forced to abandon her post when she ran out of stock.

Although there were plenty of people swaying to the band or enjoying the sunshine, I noticed that I wasn’t the only one frustrated and disappointed by the difficulty in gaining access to the cider. The numbers might explain it: last year’s crowd numbered 200-250 people; the crowd had easily tripled for 2013!

With unused tickets still in our pockets, we left Cider Fest. I was glad to be on the way home. This had been our first trip away from home with the baby. It had been fun, but it wasn’t easy.

And, after all, there’s always plenty of cider waiting for us at home.

The West family at Castle Hill
The West family at Castle Hill