On the cider trail

  • Fabio Chizzola, left, drinks a sample of hard cider with Ria Windcaller during the Cider Salon tasting event Saturday night as part of the 24th annual Franklin County CiderDays at Unity Park in Turners Falls, Nov. 3, 2018. Staff FILE Photo/Dan Little

  • Volunteer Marsha Rutz, right, pours a sample of hard cider during the Cider Salon tasting event Saturday night as part of the 24th annual Franklin County CiderDays at Unity Park in Turners Falls, Nov. 3, 2018. Staff Photo/Dan Little

  • Tim Smith of Apex Orchards, one of the local orchards participating in this year’s CiderDays, stands in front of a Fuji apple tree. FILE PHOTO/Pat Leuchtman

  • Sarah Curry helps her 1-year-old daughter Caitlin taste a sip of cider while touring the cider press Saturday at New Salem Preserves and Orchards as part of the 24th annual Franklin County CiderDays in New Salem, Nov. 3, 2018. Staff FILE Photo/Dan Little

  • An attendee of a Cider 101 cider tasting event takes in the aroma of a sample at the Deerfield Community Center during a past event. Staff File Photo

  • Varieties of apples on display at Loot in Turners Falls during cider tasting during a past Sunday at CiderDays. Staff FILE Photo/PAUL FRANZ

  • At a past CiderDays event, Dan Young of Michigan, one of the founders of the Peoples Pint in Greenfield, returned for Cider Days bringing his ciders for tasting at Loot in Turners Falls. Staff FILE Photo/PAUL FRANZ

  • Liam White, then 2, with his dad, Ray White, of Greenfield tries a local apple at a past CiderDays event. STAFF FILE PHOTO

  • Pete Mitchell was inspired to begin making cider at Franklin County CiderDays in 2000, and he never looked back; today, he owns Headwater Cider in Hawley. Staff File Photo/ANDY CASTILLO

For the Recorder
Published: 10/26/2020 9:28:07 AM

CiderDays, a celebration of cider and apples held annually during the first weekend of November, usually involves orchard visits and salons at which thousands of enthusiasts from around the world gather for tastings, workshops, demonstrations and more. As an exception to COVID-19’s collection of canceled festivals, a version of CiderDays is returning, compelling as ever.

For its 26th event, the internationally recognized cider festival will take the form of a 16-stop Cider Trail, adding more stops than ever before and expanding outside of Franklin County for the first time and lasting the duration of apple season.

The Cider Trail is a self-guided tour of orchards and cideries at which everything apple will be celebrated in a socially distanced way. Special workshops, tastings and sales will be held at certain venues during the weekend that CiderDays is usually held, Nov. 6 through 8.

To find a solution for a safe ccelebration, Lisa Davol, marketing manager at the Franklin County Chamber of Commerce — the sponsor of CiderDays — said the CidarDays committee decided “go to ground zero, (the orchards) where the cider comes from.

“We didn't want to give up, it was the perfect solution … People can go at their own pace, and most of the things are outside like walking around orchards. It’s the perfect way to celebrate CiderDays,” Davol said.

COVID-19 safety measures will be taken into account by each farm in accordance with state guidelines. Cider-makers are encouraged to keep their workshops small. The nature of having most of the activities and events outside with smaller groups spread out over two months makes the experience inherently safer.

Davol estimated that the festival normally attracts an estimated 4,000 people, noting that CiderDays is an important event for area businesses.

“A big part of this is encouraging people to celebrate the harvest and buy products. A lot of venues make a lot of money on cider days,” said Davol. While many of the tastings are free, Davol emphasized that it’s up to the orchards to decide.

Excitement for the Cider Trail is high amongst the local cider community, and if all goes to plan, this year’s “alternative” Cider Trail may well end up sticking in the future.

And with fewer workshops to plan, the committee was able to add new stops outside and within Franklin County, such as Stan’s Liquor Mart in Athol. For the first time, the event has added stops in other counties — including in Hampshire County, at Artifact Cider Project in Florence, Berkshire County at Phoenix Fruit Farm in Belchertown and Worcester County at Ragged Hill Cider Company in West Brookfield and Stan’s Liquor Mart in Athol.

Davol explained that, with the CiderDays weekend normally packed with events, decisions have to be made between visiting orchards and going to the salons. With two months to visit the Cider Trail, participants this year will not have to make that choice, nor will they have to choose between different cideries.

Visiting and exploring orchards and farms in the area is one of the best parts of CiderDays for William Grote, cider-maker at New Salem Orchards and Preserves.

“Sometimes people come just to the salons and don't have time to see where everything is coming from. This is a wonderful opportunity for people to have organized structured ways to visit different farms and orchards and cideries,” Grote said.

For Grote, these visits are the best way to “meet the cider makers and learn about the differences of each farm.”

Grote discovered CiderDays as a novice when he first attended in 2015. Now it’s his favorite weekend of the year. “It captivated my interest and passion for cider and I decided I wanted to get more and more involved. It’s kind of wild that five years later I’m the cider maker, at New Salem Preserves,” he said.

The passion of the community, including locals as well as people from all over New England and the world, came quickly to mind for Grote when reflecting on his love of CiderDays.

“Whether it’s amateurs in their basement or garage or professional cider makers,” he added.

A trip to Pine Hill Orchards remains a highlight on the Cider Trail, with little less than its usual contribution to CiderDays. While the workshops and classes on cider making and orcharding Pine Hill has offered in other years won't be held, over 4,000 gallons of their specialty blend hard cider will be available for bulk sale Nov. 7 and 8 from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

The farm was one of the original participants in the first CiderDays event, along with Clarkdale Fruit Farms, Greenwood Farm and West County Cider.

With a successful apple picking season soon over, Pine Hill is expecting a good turnout. Brady McElaney, the manager, attributes this to people looking for activities they can safely do at home.

“This is another great example of something we can provide for the public to be able to come to get a good piece of New England and take it home and make something great out of it,” said McElaney.

With the rooms of Pine Hill normally flooded with guests during samplings, the farm is in the midst of determining safe solutions to keep people distanced, including a drive-through option.

“It will have a different feeling but we have to make sure that it's accessible,” McElaney said.

CiderDays is a favorite weekend of the year at Pine Hill as well.

“There are people who come every year and they come back so happy with all the things they’ve made last year and all the great stuff they've been able to do with our mixes,” said McElaney. “Everyone is in the cider mix whether it’s the producers or the drinkers. Everybody has a love for the apples and cider and is interested to see what everyone else is doing.”

At New Salem Cider, another highlight on the Cider Trail, owner Carol Hillman mentioned a similar sentiment about the role of the orchard in celebrating the harvest.

“We feel it’s important to contribute to the community and offer the community the pleasures of the fall. Apples and cider are a very rich part of that.”

New Salem Preserves & Orchards will hold outdoor workshops on cider making, vinegar making, pruning and orcharding, over the last weekend of October and first weekend of November, weather permitting. Vendors will be set up selling local products. 

This year marks New Salem’s third year selling vintage hard ciders, and reserve ciders will be available at curated tastings. The farm encourages visitors to bring picnics, sit in the outdoor cider garden, take a stroll through the 135-year-old apple orchard, and, as Hillman puts it, “Enjoy the experience of seeing the source.

“It has become an experience with nature,” she added.

Other than having to restrict the number of guests and have a smaller program, Grote reported that the experience is “not going to be that much different for our guests.”

Another notable event scheduled on the Cider Trail is the special tastings at Carr’s Cider House in Hadley to be held in their pressing barn at their Preservation Orchard on Nov. 7 and 8.

There is no doubt that the cider community is an important part of the CiderDays experience, and, in Grote’s words, is very “tight-knit.” While coronavirus-related travel restrictions will keep those farther away from participating, the community continues to connect year-round through social media and online conventions.

For Grote, CiderDays is “the one physical event when all of these people come together and you get to make that connection with your cider community.”

While most are looking forward to next year's salons, the Cider Trail might prove to be a valuable addition.

“It forces us to think creatively and some of it might stick,” said Davol. “Depending on how popular the trail is, it might be a nice compliment to keep a trail running alongside the actual event.”

The complete Cider Trail includes Artifact Cider Project in Florence; Artisan Beverage Cooperative in Greenfield; Bear Swamp Orchard Distillery and Cidery in Ashfield; Beaver Pond Distillery in Petersham; Berkshire Cider Project in North Adams; Carr’s Ciderhouse in Hadley; Clarkdale Fruit Farms in Deerfield; Headwater Cider in Hawley; New Salem Preserves and New Salem Cider in New Salem; Phoenix Fruit Farm in Belchertown; Pine Hill Orchards in Colrain; Ragged Hill Cider Company in West Brookfield; Ryan & Casey Liquors in Greenfield; Shelburne Falls Cork in Shelburne Falls; Stan’s Liquor Mart in Athol; and West County Cider in Shelburne Falls.

For a map of the stops and details of each venue's offerings and schedules, visit ciderdays.org.




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