Our history is young compared to some of the apple growers in the region. We purchased our farm as bare ground in the late fall of 2007 from the old Cerini estate close to the historic town of Tomales, in Northern California. Used primarily for cattle grazing, we knew that extensive preparation was needed to convert this property to an orchard. With very limited water availability, we decided to plant semi-dwarf trees that would utilize a drip irrigation system in the early years while getting established, and then convert to “dry-farming” as the trees matured. People ask how we decided on our name. This is our “gardening project” that grew larger when we retired. Louis loves to grow everything, and every place we’d lived for all the years we had “day jobs,” he’d had a large garden which supplied us with most of our vegetables. Adding fruit was the next step!
Read about AppleGarden Farm in Farminista's Feast:
Four North Bay Cider Makers Who Are Shaping the Artisan Cider Movement By Karen Pavone:
"Today, the Lees' small farmstead cidery is the epitome of a tree-to-bottle operation. Their starter orchard has expanded to include 40 varietals of organically grown heirloom apples which they hand harvest, process, ferment into cider, bottle and distribute themselves to a few select local retailers and restaurants. Their hard work recently earned them a silver medal at the Dan Berger International Cider Competition, which drew several hundred cider makers from around the world—an affirmation that they can hold their own in the marketplace."
READ FULL ARTICLE
Knowing that we wanted to make cider, the first thing we did was plan for our trees. Working with our supplier, we determined that most of the apples that would thrive here were the heritage-type that had the characteristics that we wanted: bittersweet and tannic. Although we are close the Pacific Ocean, our property is on a long north-facing downhill slope that gets quite cold in the winter months, with nights in the low twenties. Perfect for growing the apples we wanted!
We started with several mid-season varieties with a few early sweet apples. Coupled with several crab-apple varieties, this would create the blend of bittersweet that we were hoping to end up with. Our trees are of the venerable cider-types: Kingston Black, Ashmead’s Kernel, Calville Blanc, Golden Russet, Roxbury Russet, Nehou, Stayman Winesap, Tremlett’s Bitter, Hauer Pippen, Foxwhelp, and Campfield. We also planted Transcendant Crab, Wickson Crab, and Red Vein Russian Crab along the driveway leading to our orchard. Committed to organic farming, our farm is certified by Marin Organic Certification (MOCA). We’ve continued planting each year after determining which trees thrived in our climate until, five years later, we have enough trees to give us the type of juice we were looking for.
Our Cider and How We Make It
We decided on a “farmstead cider” which would contain only the apples grown on our farm. Our style of cider could be described as Eric West does in “The Cider Guide,” as “New World” in that it contains only fermented apple juice…no concentrates or added sweeteners. We developed our flavor profile to complement the many artisan cheese makers and oyster farmers in our own local area: it’s fairly dry with only a hint of apple “notes,” with a very slight bit of carbonation. It’s an honest and unpretentious beverage, designed for casual or picnic events with an alcohol content of 7%.
We field-mix our apples after picking, pressing as they ripen with no particular variety in each batch. This means that the cider fermented first in the fall, using the early ripening apples, will be somewhat “leaner” and lighter than the cider fermented later in the year which is slightly richer and more mellow. We discovered that there is actually very little difference between the early and late ciders unless they’re compared side by side so decided not to try to reach a specific blend with each batch but to embrace the slight difference.
We also wanted to have a complete hands-on operation: we would not only grow and hand-pick all the apples, we’d also take care of all the other operations that go with cider making: sort, wash, grind, and press. After picking the apples as they ripen, we store them at a controlled temperature for a couple of weeks so they completely develop all the inherent sugars. We then wash, sort, and press, putting the juice into 30 gallon drums to ferment. Using all natural yeast, we watch the fermentation closely and when it’s finished, rack into another stainless steel drum to mature. When we decide the cider is ready after a few months, bottling and labeling is done by hand so that each bottle is the perfect result of months of loving care. We hope you enjoy this delicious cider!
Where to Purchase
Our cider is sold exclusively at the following fine local restaurants and delis:
The Marshall Store & Oyster Bar (Marshall)
Marin French Cheese Factory (Red Hill Road, Petaluma)
Tomales Bay Foods/Cowgirl Creamery (Point Reyes Station)
Osteria Stellina (Point Reyes Station)
Sir & Star (at the Olema)
Rocker Oysterfeller’s (Valley Ford)
Taste Kitchen & Table (Fairfax)
Nick's Cove (Marshall)
Upcider Gastropub (San Francisco)
Petaluma Market (Petaluma)
We are also pleased to offer bed-and-breakfast lodging to many visitors to the area.
Most of our guests come to experience life “on the farm” and to enjoy the local
attractions of West Marin. They always comment on the beauty and the peaceful life
here in Tomales!
For additional information, please visit www.AppleGardenCottage.com. }