by Sabra Ewing, Owner, Flag Hill Farm
When we moved to our abandoned Vershire hill farm in 1984, it was initially into a tipi and we used an open wood fire for all cooking. In the autumn, as temperatures fell and camping became less comfortable, we worked hard on building our energy efficient, off-grid house. That first fall we enjoyed apples picked from some of the dozen or so homestead trees still remaining from previous caretakers of the land.
Unlike Sebastian’s native England, we quickly noticed that wild apple seedlings were part of the local forest succession. The resulting fruit, with each tree being a different variety, produced a myriad of tastes that further inspired us. By sharing labor with friends, our first oak barrel was filled with our apples, and squeezed at Gingerbrook Farm using their wonderful, hand-cranked wooden press, mentored by Bob Machin and Joanne Liddell. The resulting wonderful vintage was much enjoyed by the town road crew on their annual trip grading our long access road!
Having picked in commercial orchards and knowing that conventional apples are some of the most heavily sprayed food crops, we knew that we were committed to organic agriculture from the very start. By focusing mainly on organic apples for processing, we could avoid chasing the perfect looking, east coast organic eating apple – which is a tricky thing to produce. We planted 50 fruit and nut trees before we even moved onto our land, and hundreds more after that.
Over the years we went a bit permaculture-wild, testing everything we could from apple rootstocks resistant to borers, to chestnuts, kiwis, cotoneasters and many more. Some notable years yielded certain exotic fruit successes but it was the apples that slowly but steadily formed the reliable backbone. We now harvest a wealth of varieties all selected for flavor and
grown without any sprays whatsoever.
We are committed to staying small and making a product from our own fruit that fully represents an expression of the immediate land around us. Over the years as our trees and our children grew, our cider business also grew – organically. Years of having to explain what hard cider was (and “no you can not let your child taste it”), have pleasantly faded, replaced by a huge, international passion for cider.
We are one of they very few certified organic wineries (which is the category cideries fall under) and distilleries in the USA. Conventional wines not only do not have to list ingredients, but also can be made with a cocktail of them. Buying organic wines mean that not only are you supporting acres of organic fruit growing, but you can also relax drinking a product that can only contain very limited and approved additives. All our ciders – bubbly, champagne method, and still – are dry and very complex, made with only apples, sugar, and some yeast. No foreign apple concentrates used here!
Over the years we have also raised hundreds of Angora goats and exotic parrots, but that is a different story. They are all gone these days and only the apples remain – we trust many of them will be still around many years after we ourselves are gone. We are grateful for all our friends, family, patrons and pickers who have helped sustain us the last thirty years.
Flag Hill Ciders are distributed in Vermont and Massachusetts. Our organic, Vermont Apple Brandy “Pomme de Vie” is available at Vermont liquor outlets.