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.