A cider session with cidermaker Steve Selin of South Hill Cider
Steve Selin creates South Hill Cider from apples both cultivated and captured. What he doesn’t press from the classic French, English and American cider apples varieties that he grows in his orchard outside Ithaca, New York, or acquires from carefully selected growers in the region, he gathers from wild and feral orchards on the nearby hills, where entirely unique apple trees have sprung up from seeds and grow far enough from the roadside that Steve and his crew must often carry them out in pack baskets.
Apple trees that grow from seeds – rather than being cloned through grafting – are like human offspring, because they are entirely unique DNA mashups of their parent trees. It takes a mindful manner and an observant palate to understand what they can offer the finished cider. Selin has grown practiced in reading the fruit and achieving exciting, unique, balanced blends that Mark Squires describes in Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate as “a cider that drinks like a fine wine” and Rowan Jacobson describes as “one of the best ciders I've had – crisp, mineral, and with a lovely richness – from both the bittersweet apples and the time in oak … really, really nice.”
Selin’s attention doesn’t end with the cider itself: Several varieties of South Hill Cider bear handmade letterpress labels, designed by the maker, and are collector’s items in themselves.
Pomme Sur Lie 2015 • 750ml • 8.2%ABV • Still, dry, unrefined, unfiltered • Barrel-fermented and aged nine months on the lees (sur-lie) • Wild and feral crabapples • Aromas of spice, roasted nuts, and apple skin • Substantial tannins tamed through slow fermentation • Smooth, astringent mouthfeel with modest acidity • 97 cases produced• Food writer Peggy Haine recommends pairing the Pomme Sur Lie with roast salmon with a whole grain mustard crust (try this version from Food & Wine) »
Vintage v. Pommage: Orchard cider is impacted by the harvest year in the same way that a bottle of wine is, but federal laws will not allow cidermakers to put the vintage year on their cider bottles. Steve and Peter discuss ways that cidermakers work around this restrictive provision.
One of a Kind Orchard 2015 • 750ml • 8% ABV • Dry, sparking blend of single orchard fruit from the East side of Cayuga Lake, NY • Delicate effervescence • Aroma of cloves, clementine, sour cherry, and leather • Contains over 200 apple varieties, many rare and heirloom, including: Baldwin, Binet Rouge, Cameo, Dabinett, Court Du Pendu Plat, Fall Pippin, Father Abraham, Freedom, Cameo, Chisel Jersey, Gilpin, Hardy Cumberland, Higdon, Honey Cider, Jubilee, King David, Leathercoat, Liberty, Margil, Melrose, Nickjack, Padukah, Ralls, Red Flesh, Red Gravenstein, Sam Young, Sharon, Sir Isaac Newton, Spy-Gold, Summer Orange, Sun Fuji, Sweet Caroline, Tom Putt, William Crump, Winesap, Zabergau Reinette, Virginia Beauty
In May, we spent a lovely waterlogged Spring day walking the wild orchards of New York's Finger Lakes and tasting some of the remarkable South Hill ciders that Steve curated for our May cidrbox.
I hope you enjoy our cider tasting as much as we did, taped at the home of Peter Hoover and Peggy Haine, cider illuminati in their own right. The majority of the cider and food pairings were provided by Peggy, who is a food writer. Each tasting can be heard from this page, wherever you see the Soundcloud "play" button, and they're also available in their entirety on Soundcloud. You will need either the Soundcloud app for Android or iOS or Adobe Flash installed on your smartphone or web browser.
Packbasket Sparkling 2015 • 500ml • 8.3%ABV • Naturally sparkling, bone dry • 100% wild pears and Pippin apples • Complex, fruity, toasty on the palate • 157 cases produced • This cider "welcomes you at the door," says Peggy: Try pairing it with a welcome course of gougere »
“With a bit of luck we found one stand of wild trees in a high valley with a good crop. These hidden trees were far enough from the dirt road that we could only retrieve the fruit by hauling it out on our backs. Hence the name, Packbasket.” ~South Hill Cidermaker Steve Selin
Packbasket Still and Dry 2015 • 750ml • 7.4%ABV • Still and dry • A later season blend of foraged wild seedling apples • Intensely fruity finish, tending to sour green apple • 96 cases produced • Peggy Haines recommends pairing the Packbasket Still and Dry with a salty cheese like Cypress Grove Lamb Chopper, along with pale green fruits, like grapes and kiwi.
Soundpost 2015 • 750ml • 8.2%ABV • Sparkling, semi-dry blend of Dabinett, Ellis Bitter and additional classic English bittersweets • Aged in bourbon barrels • Full bodied and smooth • Notes of chocolate and clove • 120 cases produced • Try pairing Soundpost with an award winning blue cheese like Muranda Blue Cheese from the Fingerlakes, coupled with candied walnuts »
Old Time 2015 • 750ml • 7.5%ABV • Naturally sparkling charmat method producing soft effervescence • Feral fruit from abandoned homestead trees blended with cultivated bittersweets • Controlled fruit flavor, harmonious and friendly • Notes of strawberry, grapefruit seed, butterscotch, musk • Pairs well with old-time music and Thai food
Stone Fence Farm 2015 • 750ml • 7.5%ABV
"This field blend is sourced from a biennial, single orchard, only about 1/4th of an acre, planted specifically for hard cider in 1995-2000. This is balanced, the fruit nicely lifted, but not showing quite as much of that "sour green apple" nuance, although there is some. It is not as intensely fruity, either, but the "just-crushed" feel to it makes it gloriously fresh and invigorating just now. This is quite fine. If you want to see why you pay a bit more instead of buying the mass market stuff, this is a good example with purity, a serious feel and nice texture. It is a cider that drinks like a fine wine. There were 88 cases produced." ~Mark Squires, Robert Parker Wine Advocate
Try pairing the Stone Fence Farm still cider with Wild Mushroom Toasts with Ham and Fried Eggs for a late weekend breakfast »
Cidrbox.com connects people seeking orchard-driven cider with the artisans who make it. Each month we visit a single, distinctive American heritage orchard — where small producers grow, harvest, press, ferment and refine their cider — and we share their cider with our subscribers. We also sit down for a cidertasting with the maker, which we share with you here at cidersessions.com.
We will be shipping South Hill Cider from the Fingerlakes in New York throughout May.
p.s. When we say cider, we mean hard cider: Artful fermentations of heirloom apples by master cidermakers. You must be at least 21 to drink what we deliver, and you will be asked for your ID and signature at the door.