From Bloom to Bottle: Farmgate’s Craft Cider
Farmgate Cider is a local, family-owned and operated craft brewery dedicated to producing high quality, small batch ciders.
The venture began in 1998 when Jim and his wife Brenda purchased a plot of land off of the Mississippi River containing a single apple tree. After deconstructing, relocating, and rebuilding a nineteenth century farmhouse on the property, they gradually began to graft and expand their new orchard. Jim, an engineer by trade and a lover of the outdoors, had a natural affinity for mathematics and harvesting and over time, with the help of his sons, decided to make crafting cider his full-time job. “It was almost like it was set to be,” he says. “This stuff had just kind of come to a confluence — it was a natural time to happen.”
For Jim, the direction and success of the business began with two founding principles: 1) bring the family closer together and 2) do no harm. In practice, this means prioritizing relationships regardless of outcomes, and it also means ensuring that the process and the products are beneficial both to clients and to the environment. Everything at Farmgate is grown organically with no sulphites, additives, or harmful chemicals — the only ingredient in their cider is apples. This type of “farm-to-glass” approach stems from a commitment to quality and a passion for the craft. As Jim says, “I planted the trees, I grafted a lot of the trees myself, I pruned them, I picked the fruit. We make the equipment, we make the cider, and now we sell it.”
At a basic level, cider-making involves pressing and then fermenting fresh apples. The trick, however, is to find the right balance between the three main variables of sugar, acid, and astringency. Different varieties and blends will achieve different levels of each, and there are, of course, different techniques which affect fermentation time, temperature, and methods of filtration and carbonation. Farmgate’s dry ciders are bottled when fermentation is complete, but for their off-dry ciders, which contain 1-2% residual sugar, the final stage involves back-sweetening the blends with either organic maple syrup, apple blossom honey, or concentrated apple juice before the cider is pasteurized and ready to sell.
Since they started selling their ciders just over a year ago, Farmgate has purchased two additional orchards, and the company show no signs of slowing down. They’ve recently begun an initiative to help manage and harvest apple trees from other farms in the area in exchange for fresh apples, juice, and cider. Over the next few months, they also have plans to start selling out of several local pubs and to start developing new kinds of cider, including a craft line made with high grade fruit juices.
At the moment, Farmgate offers six different cider varieties, including their classic Mid Season Estate Cider, made from a combination of Empire, Mac, and wild apples, their Sugar Shack Estate Cider, sweetened with extra light maple syrup, and their Wild Apple Cider, made exclusively from Farmgate’s first apple tree. You can sample these blends and visit their stand throughout the summer months at both the Lansdowne and Carp Farmers’ Markets or make an appointment any time of the year to book a tasting or a tour of their orchards.