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Day 1 – Thomas Jefferson, A Primer
Day 2 – The First Wine of Record, Claret
Day 3 – Jefferson and Madeira
Day 4 – Jefferson’s Favorite Wines Available Today
Day 5 – Monticello Pictorial
Day 6 – Monticello Vineyards
Day 7 – The Monticello Cellar
Day 8 – Thomas Jefferson—orchardist and cidermaker (Part 1)
Day 9 – Quotable Jefferson
Day 10 – The Curious Philip Mazzei
Day 11 – Jefferson Vineyards
Day 12 – What Would Jefferson Think?

Day 13 – Thomas Jefferson—Cidermaker and Scientist-Farmer

This is the second ‘Jefferson on Cider’ guest posts from Diane Flynt, Cidermaker at Foggy Ridge Cider.

Thomas Jefferson was as inventive in his garden as he was in his home and as a leader of our young nation. He grew over 330 varieties of 89 species of vegetables and herbs and 170 fruit varieties (Peter Hatch). Thanks to his over 19,000 letters and copious journal entries, we know a great deal about Jefferson’s successes—and failures—as a plantsman. This aspect of Jefferson as an exacting and experimental apple grower and cidermaker deserves attention—it is these two traits that still determine success for 20th century orchardists and cidermakers.

Peter Hatch, Director of Gardens and Grounds at Monticello, describes Jefferson’s gardens as his “laboratory”…”Jefferson himself was very much the scientist as he observed and defined seemingly all the natural phenomena that was taking place around him, the wind direction or the blooming dates of wildflowers…

Or the proper time to harvest and press apples for hard cider—on September 4, 1776, Jefferson noted:

“Mr. Epps examines my North orchard and says it consists of Clark’s pear-mains, Golden Wilding & red Hughes. He says the Golden Wilding must not be mellowed before pressed; it will yield nothing. It must be pressed as soon as gathered. Mixed with the red Hughes they make the best Cyder & yield best.”

And on November 15, 1817, he directed Mr. Bacon:

“We have saved red Hughes from the North orchard to make a smart cask of cyder. They are mellow now & beginning to rot. I will pray you therefore to have them made into cyder immediately. Let them be made clean one by one, and all the rotten ones thrown away or the rot cut out. Nothing else can ensure fine cyder.”

Since Jefferson devoted an entire room in his cellar to cider, and considered it his “table drink” to be consumed with a meal (with wine following the meal), a great deal of dining pleasure rode on harvest time, fruit preparation, cider fermenting and careful bottling. The same is true for Virginia cidermakers today. Careful harvest records, blending trials and bottling protocols are just as important for fine cider as for fine wine. Foggy Ridge Cider’s website lists detailed bloom and harvest dates for the 30 heirloom cider apples grown some 150 miles from Monticello in the Blue Ridge Mountains. Every fall the cidermaker begins her mornings on a 4-wheeler with a refractometer, clip board and history of harvest dates and Brix levels—tasting and testing to determine that all important date of “when to pick”. At Foggy Ridge we pick based on flavor development, and often pick a single block of apples several times to gather fruit at optimal ripeness. As Jefferson knew, mellow is good and rot is not!

While Jefferson approached his cultivation of fruit-to-be-fermented as a scientist, he was also what I’d call a “dirt farmer”, full of practical, hands-on knowledge that only years of experience can confer. Like any good farmer, he counted his failures as well as his successes. In an NPR interview, Peter Hatch points out:

“…you can’t help but notice in his garden diary Jefferson’s almost unflinching attention to seeds not coming up and crops not germinating. And in some ways I think in the history of American gardening, few gardeners have failed as often or at least confessed to failure as often as Thomas Jefferson.”

This winter at Foggy Ridge we’ll pull out 90 Nehou trees, a famous English cider apple full of acid and tannin, well grown by cider colleagues in CA in New England, but stubborn to produce in Carroll County, VA. It hurts to remove a tree that takes six years to bear fruit—this cidermaker is not getting any younger. But I do so with Jefferson’s fearless spirit riding on my shoulder.

Jefferson was as careful about making his cider as he was about growing and harvesting fruit for cider. In Thomas Jefferson on Wine, John Hailman writes about “the meticulous care with which Jefferson required his cider…to be made.” Edmund Bacon a Monticello overseer, describes the annual cider bottling in this way:

“Then every March we had to bottle all his cider. Dear me, this was a job. It took us two weeks.”

This past February and March in cold southwest Virginia, with daytime highs under 20 degrees and nights in the single digits, I sympathized with Mr. Bacon—bottling is an exacting task undertaken in a challenging time of year. Now if only I could raise Mr. Bacon as my cidermaking “second”!

Harvest at Foggy Ridge Cider.

Harvest at Foggy Ridge Cider.

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Foggy Ridge Cider grows over 30 varieties of heirloom cider apples and crafts award winning hard cider in the southwest Virginia Blue Ridge Mountains. Recently featured in Food & Wine magazine as a “Small Batch Superstar”, Foggy Ridge cider is sold throughout VA, NC and Washington, DC, and at the cidery tasting room near Floyd, VA. Hard cider blends include Serious Cider, a dry crisp cider similar to a sparkling wine, First Fruit and Sweet Stayman, and off dry sparkling cider that pairs well with spicy dishes. Foggy Ridge also makes a dessert cider called Pippin Gold, a blend of hard cider made from a Jefferson favorite, the Newtown Pippin apple, blended with Virginia apple brandy. Foggy Ridge Ciders have won gold medals in numerous national wine competitions.

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Sources:
Thomas Jefferson on Wine, John Hailman
NPR Interview with Peter Hatch, January 1995

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