Here is a letter we sent our reps. regarding a situation we are facing, you can help MA farm wineries and cideries by contacting your State Senators and Representatives, Thanks!
Rep. Steve Kulik
Senator Ben Downing
We are a small orchard and hard cider producer in Ashfield. We are writing you concerning recent changes to some of the States liquor laws, in particular to the Ch 138, Sec 19F Direct Wine Shipper license. As you may know, Massachusetts has had a complicated time in trying to figure out how to regulate distribution and shipping of wine (etc) in the state. We have a Farm Winery License (Ch138, 19B), this allows us to manufacture wine (cider) and sell only through a wholesaler, no self distribution. The way to self distribution for small manufacturers for years has been to get a Wine Shipment license ( Ch 138, Sec 19F), this allowed us to sell directly to retailers (package stores, etc) and restaurants without having to go through a wholesaler. It came to out attention that changes were made to the 19F license and after a phone call with the ABCC’s director, Ralph Sacramone, he verified to us that possibility for us to self distribute was removed from the updated legislation. The 19F will now be about just shipping (mailing) wine.
Self distribution is critical to the success of Massachusetts small cideries and wineries as it allows us the ability to work closely with those who carry our products, and the flexibility to get other small businesses our products as they need them. We also keep more money in our own pockets (30% +). For wineries (cideries) of our scale it is often hard to even find a distributor who is willing to work with us.
As of Jan. 1st we will no longer be able to self distribute and our business will come to a standstill until something changes. We are asking you to do what ever you can to remedy this situation. A good model as a basis for change to the 19B Farm Winery License would be to look at the Farm Brewery License which allows self distribution, etc under one license.
Thank you for your attention to this,
Steven Gougeon and Jennifer Williams
Bear Swamp Orchard & Cidery
Jennifer Williams & Steve Gougeon
1209 B Hawley Rd Ashfield, MA 01330
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Cider Days weekend was once again a busy, fun time. The weather was cold, windy, and wet, but folks came anyway, for one or more of the talks we had each day, and to try hard ciders and check us out. We had some help from friends and family so we could give talks and cidery tours. We had over one hundred people here at some times, so it was a good thing the new building was finished so they could all get out of the cold. This is also a weekend when lots of people involved with hard cider professionally are in the area, so we had the opportunity to visit with friends we see rarely, as well as meet new people who are working with cider in some way. We sold out of the cyser and ice cider over the course of the weekend, but still have sparkling, hopped, and farmhouse. Get in touch if you’d like to buy some, or you can buy the sparkling and hopped at one of our retailers.
Now that the retail season is done, we were able to finish our hard cider pressings (except the ice cider, which will wait until there is a cold snap). We have also caught up with bookwork and other tasks that had been delayed, and we can turn our attention to putting the orchard to bed by spreading compost and putting vole cages around the young trees. We have a few experiments to conduct in the cidery, and our hard cider has begun its journey from sweet juice to alcoholic beverage in our shiny new tanks.
Our last two weekends of pick-your-own were busy and fun, with lots of visitors to enjoy the beautiful fall weather, hard cider tastings, and apple picking. As usual, we had a booth at the Ashfield Fall Festival, selling sweet cider and apples, in addition to U-pick, cider tastings, and farmstand here at the farm. We also attended the Riverside Blues & BBQ beer and cider tasting in Greenfield that weekend. We got to work picking what was left following Columbus Day weekend, and did our first hard cider pressing into our new big tanks. Now the apple trees in our orchard are empty, the ground underneath cleaned up, and we have taken a break from pressing to insulate the new building. We received our second grant from the Mass. Department of Agricultural Resources for this project; the first allowed us to begin the project, and this one is focused on energy efficiency and renewable energy. If all goes well we should have the building back together for Cider Days weekend November 1 and 2, with the walls insulated and possibly a heating system in place. Hopefully by the new year we will have expanded our photovoltaic system to cover the heating needs of the new space, maintaining our home and businesses as net-zero.
As many of you who visit here know, we are blessed to have family with fantastic work ethic and a desire to take part in the orchard. Jen’s parents have been on hand to greet and help out when we are open, and they also pitch in with picking and orchard cleanup all season. Steve’s mom makes all the donuts, makes all the incredible jams and jellies, and keeps us fed every weekend. Steve’s dad is a constant presence in the orchard, pruning, mowing, picking, pressing, as well as pitching in to do hard cider tastings and help folks in the orchard when we are open. Steve’s brother pitched in with the building this summer, and staffed the tasting in Greenfield on Columbus Day weekend with Steve’s dad, since Steve and Jen were already staffing two locations. Our sons are also practicing customer service and retail sales, and we hope they can take on bigger roles as they get bigger and older. We are grateful to have such support, as we would not be able to do the work we’ve done without their help.
Hard to believe our first two weekends open this fall have already passed. Our new space is working well for us, with more elbow room for everyone. This past weekend in particular the weather was beautiful, and the trees are changing color already so the views of the hills were spectacular. I think this might have been the first weekend we’ve been open that was actually hot at times. It was great to see so many of our customers from previous years again, and to meet new ones as well. While we had a lot of visitors, the Freedom apple trees still have plenty of fruit on them, so we will be open for apple picking this coming weekend. We will check in again after the weekend has passed to decide if we can offer any apple picking Columbus Day weekend.
A note to folks who have bought ice cider: the warm weather this weekend revealed a flaw in our packaging for this product. As the ice cider warms up, it expands, and the bar top caps push up in the neck of the bottle. Given enough warmth the top will probably pop right off. The cider itself is fine but the tops are not functioning as well as we had hoped. So we are recommending storing the ice cider in a cool cellar, or in the fridge so the caps will stay on. We clearly need to use a different bottle type in future.
This has been a hard working summer here, with the new building going from idea to (nearly) complete, on top of the usual work in the orchard, gardens, hard cider cellar, and woodshop. We are just starting to pick the early varieties we have only a few trees of, including Famouse, MacIntosh, Prima, Wealthy, and Williams Pride. Many of these apples will go into the sweet cider for our first weekend we are open, when we will be picking Libertys. The Liberty crop looks good this year, after a low crop last year. Meanwhile, Steve’s mom has been busy with her jam pot, preserving all the berries we grow, including blackberry, raspberry, blueberry, and gooseberry. Those jams and jellies are a great way to enjoy the fruits of summer when there is snow on the ground.
Last year we were picked out so quickly, we felt we had to do something different, since many of our long-time customers didn’t make it here before we were sold out. So this year we have instituted a 2-peck maximum per household. That is 20 pounds of apples, half a bushel. While I know a few of you will be disappointed, most customers only buy up to that amount, so I hope this will be a good change for most of you.
We have begun our harvest with our one Astrachan tree, which we use for vinegar, followed by peaches. This was not a great peach year in this region, and our orchard was no exception. We did have a good crop of the Red Haven variety, so we have a few quarts for sale at the farm for $5/quart. That will be it for peaches this year. Our most recent harvest is our hops, which are currently drying so they will be ready to hop some cider when we bottle next spring. They smell great. The rest of the apples are looking good, sizing up with no weird pest or disease epidemics. We are on track to have the new building functional by the time we plan to open September 19.
Since our last update, the cidery has begun to look more like a building.
Roof trusses going on
Framing complete and exposed
A few days later with roof and house wrap added. We laid out 4 inches of rigid insulation on the floor in preparation for the concrete floor, which we will pour this week. While we still have some outside details to complete (windows, doors, siding), much of the work will be inside from now on, so the outside will not change as drastically as it has up to now.
Having skills is both a curse and a blessing. We couldn’t afford to pay someone to build this building, but it is a tremendous amount of work to fit into an already full life. We look forward to reaping the benefits of this investment of time, energy and money in the coming years. Sweat equity has certainly been a staple in our life plan to date!
Hand thinning on the Libertys, Freedoms, and Cortlands is finished at last, and we are also done keeping clay on the trees to control plum curculio damage. Lots of apples will be able to size up and not run into each other as they grow now, leaving us with more pest-free, round apples.
Robin nest being built
Cluster of apples that need to be thinned
n thinning etc.
New labeler and new bottler
Farmhouse cider going into a barrel for aging, and Maple sugaring
Spring has arrived at last, with maple sap boiling and trees getting pruned. It is also time for us to work on hard cider. We bottled the Sparkling hard cider this weekend and moved the Farmhouse hard cider to a bourbon barrel to add that barrel-aged patina to the cider. We updated our process a bit with a new labeler (made here in Ashfield!) and a five-spout bottler. The whole process was significantly smoother and quicker than our previous setup, which involved hand-applying each label, and bottling one at a time. Using these tools in our current space gives us good insight into how we want to set up our new space once we have that built. Like we did last year, we used maple syrup to bottle condition the Sparkling hard cider. The only difference is, we got our maple syrup certified organic so we can use it in our cider and still maintain that 100% organic status.
|Here is part of a recent conversation with a cider making peer regarding lees and racking for those cider makers looking to opt out of conventional wisdom:|
Q: I wanted to also ask you a more technical question about racking cider. I'm planning on aging our cider for quite some time on lees while in barrel, this is a bit of a left over technique from my wine making experience but haven’t done it on a large scale with cider and wondered if you've ever had any particularly good or bad results from leaving your cider on it's lees for an extended period of time? I know a lot of people rack off quite quickly but was happy to see you waiting several months. Do you do any lees stirring as well or do you just let your cider clarify?
Response: I see no real problem with aging on the lees, and we have, and do to a certain extent. I think it can add a certain flavor profile which is nice, a soft earthy kind of thing. This was our second rack (Jan 29th), the first was a couple of weeks ago. We pressed most of it in late october so we let it sit and ferment on its own for quite a while. At this point we are just trying to clean it up a bit and maybe see if we can get rid of some of the CO2 in solution. My foundation for cider making knowledge is to contemplate on how it would have been done a few centuries ago: Gather apples, crush, press, put juice in barrel, let ferment, tap from barrel and drink! Real Cider! Modern approaches are too sciencey and not enough art, and more often then not are driven by the bottom line (money).