By Tanya Henry
“We want to keep our operation small and keep it fun,” says Jan Lee, who, along with her husband Louis, founded Marin’s only commercial organic cidery, Apple Garden Farm, in 2007.
Before Lee became a hard-cider maker, she worked as a project manager for a large commercial contractor. She met her husband on the job and together they bought land in Tomales that had been used for cattle grazing; in the late 2000s, they started planting an apple orchard.
“We are completely organic,” says Lee, who not only complies with the national USDA Organic certification but has also received the Marin Organic Certified Agriculture (MOCA) stamp.
Once the couple decided that they wanted to produce cider, they carefully went about determining the varietals that would grow well on their Northern California property. Lee attended seminars and gathered as much information as she could from reliable sources like UC Davis before planting 40 different types of apples.
“Since it’s only the two of us managing the entire production, we were mindful about planting varieties that would be ready to harvest at different times throughout the season,” Lee explains. Her favorites are the Golden and Roxbury Russets. Other classic cider-making apples on the farm include Kingston Black, Ashmead’s Kernel and Calville Blanc, along with several tart crab apples: Transcendent Crab, Wickson Crab and Red Vein Russian Crab—just to name a few!
Apple Garden Farm’s cider season begins at the end of August and typically ends by Halloween. Lee will make about 10 120-gallon batches this year—and all will be “field blended,” meaning that there are no single-variety batches. Instead, all are blended together.
Once apples are hand-picked, washed, sorted, ground and pressed by the husband-and-wife team, they are allowed to ferment (which takes about three weeks). They are then transferred into stainless steel maturing barrels, where natural yeast is added and the mixture is kept at 50 degrees Fahrenheit for eight-to-nine months. The resulting product is a hard cider with an alcohol content of 7 percent.
Lee often enjoys her cider with a dinner of fried oysters and local cheeses. “Our cider is very dry—we don’t add any sweeteners and it has very little effervescence,” she says.
The cider can be found at West Marin restaurants that include Sir and Star, Nick’s Cove and Osteria Stellina. Taste Kitchen & Table in Fairfax also carries the locally made beverage.
Apple Garden Farm, 3875 Tomales-Petaluma Rd., Tomales; 707/878-9152; applegardenfarm.com.