Alyssa Hubert tells me she has a lot of friends at her house right now. No, she’s not hosting a dinner party, and her house isn’t so much her dwelling as it is the cidery at Creek & Gully, where she is Head Cidermaker. Her “friends”, in this case, are fermentations – apples and grapes sitting in tank together, all symbolizing different collaborative projects with local winemakers.
With the support of Creek & Gully owners (and expert cider makers Kaleigh Jorgensen and Annelise Simonsen) Alyssa worked on the ‘Stay Golden’ Chardonnay-Golden Delicious apple collab with Raj Toor of Ursa Major, before she partnered with Keenan and Zoë of their eponymous label, and Jody and Costa at Rigour & Whimsy, to make grape-apple bubbles that speak to the past and future of the Okanagan: a need to work together, and a recognition that monoculture (growing miles and miles of a single crop, like grapes) is not exactly the best approach to a thriving agricultural community.
Though cidermaking has been alive in our region for decades, it has not been seen as a part of the wine community until winemakers like Alyssa (her personal wine label, L-ST Projects is superlative Chardonnay, if you can get your hands on it!) started working with ‘alternative’ fruits. Add her efforts to those of Katie Selbee of Twin Island on Pender, and Dominion Cider in Summerland, and apples are starting to look pretty sophisticated in BC.
Beloved bubble winemaker and owner of Lightning Rock and Pamplemousse Jus in Summerland, Jordan Kubeck, (you can find our profile of her here) notes that “there’s a lot of fruit around here just waiting to be co-fermented into a delicious bottle of something.” She believes that sparkling versions of fruit-and-grape wine are the most successful, and the term “fruit-nat” certainly affirms that. Jordan has recently released her own fruity fermentation, noting the ingenuity of vineyard owner Dana Ewart for creating a piquette recipe of Gewürztraminer skins with wild golden plums for the Pamplemousse Jus orange piquette. As piquettes tend to be light and easy-going, alternative fruit sources are an ideal way to flesh out texture and fruitiness.
At the exact same time, however, grapes are dang hard to come by in the Okanagan right now. It’s harder to buy a tonne of Pinot Noir grapes in the Okanagan Valley than it is to buy Off-White sneakers in Vancouver, so young winemakers who don’t have the privilege of owning massive swaths of vineyard are getting creative with different fruit. Before there were grapes in the Okanagan, there were apples, plums, and cherries, farmed for eating. (And they still should be – as food production, a basic need, should always take place over the production of alcohol, a luxury product. But that’s another story.)
For years, cider has been listed on bar menus and the tap list as a beer alternative. In the liquor store, it sits in the fridge between sours and hard seltzers. To be fair, a lot of the large production “cider” that’s available in BC is closer in origin to White Claw than it is to what Alyssa is doing. The legal definition of what we can call cider is murky. However, as more winemakers and careful farmers turn to fermenting apples, we have something to be excited about. Fermenting real cider is not unlike fermenting wine, and comparisons between pét-nat and sparkling cider abound. Winemaker Tony Cotturi, from Sonoma in California, calls his pét-nat cider “farmer’s champagne.”
Call it Fruit-nat or Fruit pét-nat (pétillant naturel, AKA ancestral method sparkling, is a sparkling wine that ferments inside the bottle, as opposed to traditional method sparkling like champagne, or a tank method bubble like Prosecco), as coined by Swedish luminaries Fruktstereo, whose book “Cider Revolution” encourages city-dwellers to make cider from found fruit sources in their own neighbourhoods. Fruktstereo has been leading the charge in Europe for thinking about wine and cider as part of holistic farming practice and a means to use what you have.
While wine, like many imported and shipped products in 2022, keeps getting more expensive, the crushable, approachable, and drinkable wines that don’t need years of cellaring have never been more necessary, as we drink to avoid imminent global crises and the soul-crushing realities of late-stage capitalism. Add that desire to the fact that smoke taint (the whole host of wine flavour issues that arise when grapes have been grown near forest fires) is a threat nearly every year, and it isn’t hard to see that diversification is important.
This is the big deal as it relates to us in BC: climate change and forest fires. Both Alyssa and Jordan affirm that apples, with their thick skins and firm fruit structure, suffer demonstrably less from tainted smoke flavours than delicate grape skins. While no corner of agriculture is safe from climate change, it seems apples can fare better in the future of big smoke than grapes.
Understandably, wine producers are still tentative and protective of the tradition and expressivity of their wines. Grapes have a uniquely pure ability to translate flavours that no other fruit seems to convey as clearly – or so we think, at this point. Alyssa agrees that her first and deepest love is winemaking, and nothing can replace that. However, in that act of translation, there are a million different languages to choose from. Maybe we could all do with learning another one.