The latter part of the 19th century was a transformative time for the western half of North America. Settlers seeking new economic opportunities flocked to what would become the western states, especially after passage of the Homestead Act in 1862. All a would-be landowner needed to do was file an application for a 160 acre plot, improve the land in some way, and live there for five years, after which he/she could file for a deed proving ownership. What constituted “improvements” wasn’t specified, but often homesteaders would put in a orchard, for it takes time for trees to mature so having an orchard showed an intent to stay put and make the land productive. Still, it could be a hard life, and after many years attempting to make a go of it homesteads were often abandoned and the trees left to fend for themselves.
Eaglemount Winery and Cidery is located on one such abandoned homestead on Washington’s Olympic Peninsula. Built in 1883 about 15 miles outside of Port Townsend, the original cabin was nothing but a shell when owner Jim Davis bought the land a hundred years later. He set about rebuilding the cabin into a cozy home and reclaiming the overgrown orchard. Many of the original apple trees had survived quite well, a testament to their resilience. The homesteader that planted them was probably a pragmatic sort, putting in varieties that had a mix of uses – fresh eating, good for cooking, keeping well into the winter, and, of course, great for cider. Roxbury Russet and Winesap, Sweet Bough and Gano, Toleman Sweet, Rhode Island Greening, and Rome Beauty – the list is a Who’s Who of classic American apples.
Trudy joined Jim on the land in the mid-1990s, and together they made cider with their apples and wine with grapes that they harvested in eastern Washington. Trained originally as a toxicologist, Trudy went to work for a local winery in the early 2000s, and by 2006 they were ready to open a winery/cidery of their own. Starting with just the apples from their trees, which are now reserved for their two Homestead ciders, as the business has grown they have sourced apples from locals with old trees of their own.
Trudy is also a pragmatic sort. Although she personally leans toward drier ciders, she has responded to her market’s preference for ciders that are more medium than dry, continually thinking about new flavor combinations that reflect the area, and that can be made with locally sourced organic produce. The Raspberry Hopped and Raspberry Ginger ciders are both mildly sweet, refreshing, summery drinks. Each is brightened by the tartness of the raspberries, while hops contribute an interesting herbal character to the one and the ginger a fresh bite to the other. The rhubarb in the Rhubarb cider brings a distinct bracing fruitiness, the sort of flavor you might expect in a strawberry rhubarb pie without the intense sweetness.
The best known of the Eaglemount ciders is probably the Quince cider, a blend of organic quince from the San Juan Islands and organic local apples. Written up in an article on quince in the New York Times in 2012 it was sought out by restaurants around the country, including the Michelin star restaurant Sepia in Chicago and so can be found far out of the company’s usual distribution area of western Washington. Sparkling and a clear, warm gold, the nose is full of honey from the quince. There’s ample honey on the palette as well, and a subtle acidity followed by flavors of rounded fruit and a mild astringency. It doesn’t work well with every cheese, bringing out extra funkiness in something like aged, washed rind cheeses, for example, but complements a good emmental or medium-aged gouda. At table, the Quince pairs especially well with savory roasted chicken or pan-broiled pork, both of which are enhanced by the honeyed fruit in the cider.
With the future in mind, in mid-2014 Jim and Trudy bought some property just down the road with plans to put in more trees and expand the cidery. In a way this is a modern form of the old homestead, putting down roots, making the land productive, and creating opportunities for some enterprising cider maker in the next century.