Cidery and Winery

Our Products

We were granted our farm winery license in 2014. We were experimenting with all kinds of fun fruit combinations for more than a decade before getting our license. Hopefully the big mistakes and funky flavors are behind us. But that doesn’t mean we are done experimenting! We don’t have a lot of volume on the farm winery but we do have a lot of different stuff to try. I am sure we go way beyond some peoples flavor profiles. What we make is far from conventional and doesn’t fit into any category, unless you consider ‘farmhouse cider’ a category.

The best way to define our ciders and wines is this; unfiltered, minimally manipulated, dry to semi-sweet, made with all organic ingredients, all estate, and a little over-the-top. If it grows on our farm we will attempt of ferment it soon or later.

Our Wines

 

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According to the feds fermented fruit juices containing more than 7% alcohol are wines. Our wine grapes produce plenty of sugar to make wine above 7% alcohol. We produce table wines that fall between 7 and 15% alcohol by volume (abv). Most of our apple varieties do not produce enough sugar to go over 7% abv. So our apple products are ciders unless we add sugar to increase fermentation. Sometimes we will add sugar to a non-grape juice blend and ferment it into a wine.

We are still fermenting and blending wines from the 2015 crop. There will be more wines being released this year.

Here is a partial list of what we have in the cellar:

  • Rhubarb apple wine
  • Raspberry apple wine
  • Cherry apple wine
  • Raspberry apricot apple wine
  • Marechal Foch red wine
  • Oak barrel aged red wine

 

Our Ciders

We make several styles of cider. Cider is made with apple juice. Most of our apples don’t produce enough sugar to ferment above 7% alcohol by volume. Our ciders blended with other fruit usually fall between 5 and 6.5% abv. The most common style of cider is carbonated and put into beer bottles. We also make still cider which is flat like wine but below 7% abv. We put this cider in 750ml wine bottles with a wine cork. The third style we make is Ice Cider. This cider is higher in alcohol and falls into the table wine category 10 to 14% abv. We bottle into 325ml wine bottles with a cork.

Carbonated Ciders

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Our carbonate ciders blended with fruit start with a mix of sweet and tart apples to make a light balanced base cider. We may add some fruit juice and then let it ferment again until all the sugar is used up. Other times we will add fruit juice to sweeten the base cider. Every batch is a little different. Sometimes we make a fruit juice blend of apple and something else. We let the blend ferment and later blend in more cider. Since we are not using fruit juice concentrate we have to blend and taste and blend again. It is not easy to get the right ratio of fruit to cider without doing lots of tasting and blending.

We are still fermenting and blending our 2015 ciders so there will be more releases this year.

In the cellar now:

  • Sweet Raspberry
  • Sweet Apricot
  • Sweet Cherry pie – made with Hungarian sweet/tart cherries, amazing aroma with light pie cherry flavor.
  • Sweet Strawberry
  • Honey Honey – this is our first Honeycrisp based cider. We blended in Honeygold apples to give it a more delicate flavor and then put in a little apple juice and local honey to take the edge off. This is a light but balanced easy drinking cider. It has very little residual sugar making it a semi-dry cider that finishes very clean.

On the drawing board or in the fermenters:

  • Hopped hard
  • Purple raspberry
  • Spruce tip
  • Hard cider with plum

 

Still Ciders

 

We only make a few still ciders. These are unique blends that we make in small batches. All the still ciders are fermented dry. A good choice for the wine drinker that prefers lighter flavors and lower alcohol. We will also occasionally make a varietal hard cider as a still.

In the cellar:

  • Hard cider with raspberry
  • Barrel Red Cyder – this is an apple and red wine grape blend. The juices were blended then fermented together. We aged this blend in an old oak barrel. A unique mild red wine flavor with a rich oaky finish.
  • Apple Rose – this is some of our oak aged grape apple blended with more cider to make a lightly oaked rose.

 

Ice Cider

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This is a new product for us. We tried our hand at it in the winter of 2014/2015 with two five gallon (plastic) carboys. We took a sweet blend of apple juice and put it outside to freeze. After it was frozen solid we brought it in, turned the carboys upside down, and let the sugary juice run out. After we could see what looked like slushy clear ice crystals in the carboy we stopped collecting the juice. This concentrates the flavors and makes the juice sweeter like wine grape juice. We then fermented out the juice and had our first Ice Cider. Our customers love the stuff.

In 2015 we decided to increase our production a bit. Instead of using two five gallon carboys we filled two large plastic shipping totes that each held 250 gallons. We tried two different juices. When the temp dropped below zero we set the shipping totes outside. After they froze solid we brought them into the cooler and let the sugary juice thaw at 35 degrees. A couple times a day I would lift the tote with the forklift, open the valve on the bottom of the tote, and let the sweet juice run out.

 

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We ended up with about 200 gallons of concentrated apple juice. We are testing a number of different techniques with this juice. Some are fermented with organic yeast, some are wild fermented. There are two different apple blends and we are trying several Ice ciders fermented with other fruit juices. We hope to have some real tasty blended ice ciders to release in 2016.

Availability

Most of our products are only available at the farm in our tasting room. Farm sales open in the spring and close late fall. Check out the homepage or facebook for our sales hours. We do have some of our carbonated ciders on tap in LaCrosse bars and restaurants.

  • Rootnote Café
  • Bodega Brew Pub
  • Stoppas Steinhaus
  • Charmant Hotel
  • Dels Tavern
  • The Waterfront Restaurant
  • The Mint

 

How we make our cider

At Hoch Orchard our ciders are made from apples grown in our orchards. The berries and stone fruit that we put in our cider blends and wines are also grown on the farm. We even grow our own hops for our hopped cider. All our ciders and wines are made with estate grown fruit, nothing is brought in from other farms or suppliers. That means all of our products are made with certified organic and biodynamic fruit.

 

At Hoch Orchard we care about what goes into our ciders and wines. We want you to understand the process we use and know what goes into the products you are drinking. Some of the ingredients/additives we use include: sulfites prior to fermentation, commercial yeast, commercial yeast nutrients, and some potassium sorbate. We do not use all of these additives in everything we make.

 

Sulfites are used to treat juice before fermentation. The sulfites kill wild yeast, mold, and bacteria that create off flavors. Sulfites are naturally occurring and have been used in wine production all through history. The USDA organic program for some reason does not allow the use of any sulfites in wine. Other regions around the world do allow the use of sulfites. EU organic program allows sulfites. Demeter International (certifies Biodynamic farms) allows up to 100 parts per million sulfite in certified biodynamic wine and cider.

 

Some people are sensitive to sulfites so we are required to put “May Contains Sulfites” on the label when we use them. Most of the sulfite dissipates in the fresh juice within a few days of being added. Some gases off, some is eaten up by the microorganisms, and some gets bound up in the juice. When it is used before fermentation most of it is gone before the cider or wine is bottled. Some wineries will add more sulfites after fermentation to help preserve the wine and to keep the color sharp. We do not add sulfites to the wine after fermentation. We are not concerned about the sharpness of the color. We are more concerned about flavor than appearance and we want products to be as natural as possible.

 

Yeast selection can have a substantial impact on the flavor of the wine/cider. We are testing methods of fermentation using wild yeast that is on the surface of the apples and throughout the environment. We are also testing certified organic commercial yeasts. Commercial yeasts are very consistent and are developed to work best in a specific temperature range. Our wild yeasts can be made up of many different strains and species that work at different temperature ranges. It may take us a few years to figure out the best way to use our wild yeast. But when we do, we will really have an all-local cider or wine that truly reflects the terroir of our farm.

 

Yeast nutrients are used to help yeast fully ferment all the sugar in the cider. Apple juice does not have the full range on yeast nutrients that grape juice does. Grape juice will ferment in only a week or two, and will really bubble up when it is working. Apple juice usually starts off slow then picks up a little but never works fast like grape wine. If you use commercial yeast in apple juice without a nutrient additive you can have problems getting consistent fermentation. In some cases the yeast will die off before all the sugar has fermented. This can leave the wine with left over sugar that will make the cider taste sweet, and it can allow other organisms to feed on the sugar and spoil the cider. We use some certified organic yeast nutrient in our ciders. But we are trying to develop a method of fermenting with wild yeast and no nutrient. Some of the best traditional European ciders are made with only wild yeasts. The problem with this method is it can take six months or more to finish the fermentation. That is a long time to wait for a glass of our cider.

 

Potassium sorbate is a common preservative added to fruit juices. Our semi-sweet wines and ciders have a little organic cane sugar, honey, or fresh juice added back to the fully fermented wine/cider. If we do not add a preservative the yeast in the wine/cider can starting working on that sugar. This creates carbon dioxide in the bottle and can push the cork out of the wine bottle or cause the beer bottles to explode.

 

When we add a sweetener to the finished wine it brings out the flavor of the fruit. It also softens the sharpness that comes from the higher acid levels in our northern grown fruit. Of course, some people just don’t like the taste of a fully dry wine or cider. When all the natural sugar is fermented out, you get a slightly dry feeling on the tongue from the alcohol and acid. That is why a wine/cider with no sugar is referred to as ‘dry’. A little bit of sweetness counters the dryness. We don’t like real sweet wines and we think most people who are looking for flavorful wines and ciders are not looking for heavily sweetened products. Our wines/ciders will all fall into the dry, semi-dry, or semi-sweet category.

 

There are other methods that can control secondary fermentation (in the bottle) when cider/wine is sweetened. High tech filtering systems can take away all the cloudiness. Filters with extremely fine pores can actually take out the yeast and in some cases even the flavor. We do not see this as an option for our products. We do not filter the fermented cider/wines. We allow the particulates to settle to the bottom of the tank or carboy and then transfer off the cleared portion. This procedure is called racking. We will rack the cider/wine a few times but this does not always clarify. We take what the juice gives us, some will be crystal clear and some may be a little foggy. We want as much of the natural flavor and character of the juice to be in the wine as possible. Ultra-fine filtration would certainly change that.

 

Another option for controlling fermentation is bottle pasteurization. In this method the bottled cider is put into a hot water bath and heated up just enough to kill the yeast and other spoilage organisms. This is a method that is approved in organic production so we may look into getting the equipment needed for this. For now our sweetened ciders/wines will have potassium sorbate added and will not be certified organic.

 

Clarifiers and pectin products are used to make the finest particles in the cider/wine settle out. Certain styles of wine and cider require a crystal clear look. This has nothing to do with the quality or the flavor. Most cider and wine makers want their products to have this look. There are a lot of wine and cider makers that will hold a glass of wine up to the light and proclaim “isn’t that beautiful” without regard to the amount of chemicals, additives, and manipulation that it took to get that look. We do not concern ourselves with this characteristic. Like high quality German wheat beers, a beverage does not have to be crystal clear to taste amazing. We think the less we manipulate our products, the more natural and better flavored they will be.