Basics of Keeving

We have found that only approximately half of the producers actually try to achieve a 'chapeau brun' -the 'brown hat' that forms at the top of a juice tank and results in an over-clarified must essential for a keeved cider. We found both large and small producers using the chapeau brun method as well as the alternative method of 'sedimentation'. Only larger producers are pasteurizing their final product in bottle, however many of the smaller producers have issues with over carbonated cider, undercarbonated cider, or cider that is slightly off of the ending target gravity.

In general, we have seen chapeau brun achieved by harvesting mature fruit from the orchard floor. Most growers are letting fruit naturally fall off the tree, and making up to three harvests under each tree. Sometimes the tree receives a shake if needed...

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Wilkins - Somerset, England

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While many of the cideries we visited in France and England were integrated working farms that raised cows and sheep, they did seem to be legitimate cider production facilities, with all the amenities you would expect at an artisan winery. Wilkins cider seemed to be quite a different story in that most of the operation seemed to be geared around cows and other types of farming, while cider was just a natural by-product of living off the land. The facility shares a wall with the cattle pen, and the FDA would have a heart attack if they ever saw the facility, however I believe it is one of the truest views into the traditional style of making West Country cider that still exists. 

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The cider is produced in the most simple means possible. The apples are harvested off the ground, crushed and pressed, and put into plastic and wooden vats and barrels of various sizes. That's it. Fermentation happens naturally without any intervention. The cider is served directly out of wooden vats as a still, cellar temperature 'rough' product. It is served alongside whole pickled onions (regular or spicy) and some of the best sharp cheddar cheese you have ever had. It was unclear how the cider was packaged for sale outside the farm, but we did see it in a number of country taverns.  

Words cannot do justice in describing Rodger Wilkins or his facility, but it is absolutely an adventure and worth visiting. 

Heck's - Somerset, England

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Heck's cider in Somerset, U.K. has produced traditional farmhouse cider and perry for six generations. Their long history was evident by the large wall filled with award plaques and newspaper articles of their journey.  Andrew Heck was a warm and welcoming host, though not one to speak at length.  Their cidery has a retail shop that sells produce, local goods as well as their cider. The facility was made up of a number of stone buildings with tanks and supplies packed in just about every available space.  They produce a number of single varietal ciders and perries, which was unique compared to the other cideries we visited. Most of the cider for sale at their cidery is stored in wooden casks and bag in box containers.  Customers are encouraged to blend any of the ciders and perries together to their liking. These ciders are sold in plastic jugs of varying sizes, the largest being about 2 gallons.  In addition to cider and perry they also produce 18 varieties of apple juice.

 Fruit

Heck's was not an orchard based cidery, though they do grow most of the apples and pears used in their ciders at off site orchards. They grow 18 varieties of perry pears.  Since there was no orchard tour here the discussion of orcharding practices and fruit characteristics was minimal.

 Processing

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Their fruit processing area is under cover but not enclosed in a building.  When fruit is received it is washed in a voran elevator grinder and is pressed on a Voran belt press. It looked to be about a 3' wide belt. They can process about 3 tonnes of apples per hour, a bit slower when pressing perry pears. When pressing cider apples they average about 130 gallons per ton.

 Fermentation

All of their ciders are 100% juice and wild fermented. Keeving is not a part of their process. He did not mention the use of sulfites at any step in their process. From the press, juice is transferred into Rotoplas black HDPE tanks roughly 500 gallons in capacity. These were the largest tanks they had on site and not a one was stainless steel.  They have no bottom port, just a manway at the top in the center. The tanks were originally used for transporting orange juice. When fermentation is complete and the cider is ready to be finished, they utilize sucralose for their medium and sweet ciders. He uses roughly 7 to 7.5 grams of sucralose in 50 gallons of cider. For some ciders that will be pasteurized and packaged in bag in box they will use sucrose to sweeten.

 Notes

Annual production is about 50,000 gallons of cider and perry. Most of Heck's ciders are sold in bag in box format. Some ciders are bottled and carbonation is done with the bottling machine they use. They do not utilize any brite tanks for carbonation. Some of the varietal ciders on hand when we visited were Morgan Sweet, Broxwood Foxwhelp, Browns, Port wine of Glastonbury, Slack Ma Girdle, Kingston Black and Tom Putt. Varietal perries on hand included Blakeny Red and Hendre Huffcap. All of these were still ciders/perries.

Pilton's - Shepton Mallet, England

Pilton's keeving tanks.

Pilton's keeving tanks.

Our host, Martin, showed us around his cider facility in England. His cidery was much younger than most, if not all, of the others we had seen, and thus carried less of a traditional air to it. Pilton Cider, created in 2009, produces about 50,000 L of cider a year. He, like us, took on a French keeving expert for advice in order to perfect his technique. All of his ciders are intended to keeve. Any one that doesn’t work out is fermented dry into and English style cider. Apples are sourced and pressed by other farmers and he only buys the juice at a rate of 45-50 pence per liter. He’s not exactly in tune with which varieties of apples he uses. A catch-all of “old bittersweets” will suffice for him. He doesn’t measure the TA of any of his juice, but rather just aims for a pH of 3.7.

His style of production incorporates maceration at anywhere between 2 to 24 hours. If it’s warm out he prefers to juice it sooner. The juice is circulated in a heat exchanger and chilled to 8 degrees C. The fermentation rooms are kept cool with refrigeration fans. He’ll add PME to the juice, mix thoroughly, and wait 2-3 days before adding calcium chloride. He tests the cap formation by taking a sample each day into small tubes and put them in the fridge. When one of them turns cloudy, that means that it was time to rack YESTERDAY.

Our host only keeves the amount of juice that can be pressed in one day. He never adds more juice to a process that has essentially already started. He noted that keeving can sometimes only remove 20% of the inherent nitrogen. At Pilton, they do utilize a bit of filtration to control the fermentation rate. Martin will filter out 90% of the yeast (juice), but only after fermentation has peaked and the yeast cells have been properly built up. It is safe to bottle when the gravity has not dropped more than one point over 3 weeks at a temperature of 10 degrees C.

Keeved bag-in-box cider, ready for the pub!

Keeved bag-in-box cider, ready for the pub!

We had some questions about his use of IBCs used for some of his cider. We found that he uses steel inserts that circulate cold water to provide a cold ferment. He also had a current fermentation going in a whiskey barrel, post-keeve, but has not tested any of the product yet. He added that whiskey barrels needed to be neutral for him. If it imparted any detectable whiskey flavor his duty would increase from 40 pence per liter to about 2.60 pounds per liter.

I thought Pilton’s Cider was one of the more desirable English products we came across. Everything was clean, woody, earthy, properly balanced with acid, fruity, tannic and toffee-like.

Tom Oliver Session - Wells, England

Tom Oliver Session – Swan Hotel, Wells, UK

Tom Oliver, featuring a barrel of cider with it's bung held in place with a t-shirt bearing the face of Jimmy Page. Secret keeving trick?

Tom Oliver, featuring a barrel of cider with it's bung held in place with a t-shirt bearing the face of Jimmy Page. Secret keeving trick?

Tom was in town for the Royal Bath and West Show, so while we weren’t able to visit his farm and cidery as a group, he graciously agreed to come to our hotel and talk with us for an afternoon to discuss the mysteriously fickle art of keeving.

What is keeving? A sub 5.5% ABV cider, that is naturally sweet, unfiltered (only racking), and then bottle conditioned. The reason for this is that if it is over 5.5% then you have to pay the high duty rate of champagne.

In Tom’s opinion, keeving has a high failure rate – so here are some keys to consider:

  • Ambient Temp of 10°C – better at 8°, even better at 6°, 12° is alright but 8 is best

  • Minimum intervention – DO NOT BULLY!

  • Old Trees, Traditionally Grown (only because traditional orchards mean old)

    • Bittersweets (for their gentle and soft characteristics) and  some bittersharps – NO HARD TANNIN FOR KEEVING!

    • Stay away from acids

    • Fruit is key! (Doesn’t measure YAN – just knows from many, many years of keeves)

  • Maceration: time fruit spends after milling is crucial – 24-48 hours

    • This will lend you less problems down the road

    • Longer chain tannins come back to haunt when bottling (create snow globes)

    • USE A PACK PRESS!

    • Find out what your fruit requires

      • Tools, apples, resources: “Whatcha got, is whatcha got”

Inside Tom's production space.

Inside Tom's production space.

 

  • Poo is a crime

 

In Tom’s opinion, a true keeved cider happens naturally but these few things help the process:

 

  • Picking apples between Oct – Nov

  • PME (producers: STDANA, SANICO) and then Calcium Chloride flakes (powder) or liquid when it Floculates (3rd Day)

    • Take 1L, mix in the Calcium Chloride, wait until it becomes the texture of semolina

  • Ferments in 1000L totes (IBC), the plastic allows you to shine a Halogen light on the side to track the process

  • You want Fermentation to start but just barely – Never above 14°

  • Rack a couple times heading into Christmas, maybe once over New Year’s

    • Rack when Barometric pressure is high, 3-4 times before the cold weather comes

      • “IF A KEEVE IS A KEEVE IT’S A KEEVE!”

  • Should be 1.020 when you bottle, in the bottle it will drops to 1.016 (no yeast into bottle!)

  • Use cidre bouche corks – small, non-mushrooms short corks

Chateau Lezergue - Ergue-Gaberic, France

Fiberglass tanks.

Fiberglass tanks.

1 Route de Plas an Dans, 29500
Ergué Gaberic, FR
Phone: 02 98 59 63 45
http://www.chateau-lezergue.com/

Cidermaker/Guide: Joseph (co-owner)

Fruit: Uses multiple varieties of traditional French cider apples including Kermerrien, Marie-Ménard, Prat-Yeod, Douce-Moen, Kroc'hen Ki and Douce-Coêtligné.

Orchard: 35 HA owned/operated by cidery, accounting for approximately 1/3 of total volume used (remaining grown under contract).

Harvest practice: All fruit is allowed to drop. Harvesting by mechanical sweeper. Harvest proceeds from September through December. Harvested apples are sorted on-site by orchard and (where applicable) type, allowing at-press blending by varietal and/or fruit classification.

Fruit processing: At-press blending generally used, with target pH of 3.7 or lower. Peak processing uses 250 tonnes apples/day. Milling and pressing takes place at ambient (indoor) temperatures ranging from 5 to 20º C. Shredder-style mill. Pomace fed into one of two piston-style presses, sized at 3-tonne and 5-tonne. Joseph reports 75% yield, each press cycle takes between one and 1.5 hours to complete. No maceration procedures per se.

Juice preparation: Juice cooled to 10º C prior to intake. Uses PME (Pectin Esterase Enzymes) and calcium chloride, former added per manufacturer instructions at 1L/300 HL, added to tank approximately 24 hours after tank fill without deliberate stirring or blending. 5 mg/l SO2 added for nominal microbal control.

Keeve process: Naturally-occurring yeast for all fermentation with yeast metabolics used to raise cap. Cap lift and development are tracked with aid of translucent tanks.

Fermentation process: Fermentation occurs at target 10º C. Slow fermentation pace  maintained as required using racking and centrifuge filtering. Cross-flow filtering seen as too complete for stage filtering, reserved for final filter cycle.

Maturation/Conditioning: Completed cider packaged with large monoblock carbonation/bottling machines. 75º C/20’ in-bottle pasteurization cycle used for finished product (30 PU). Bottles are stored on-site in ambient temperatures for aging/conditioning prior to labeling and sale.

Keeving trick: Avoid this stuff.

Keeving trick: Avoid this stuff.

Additional Notes:

  • Orcharding and production practices conforming to Cornouaille AOC.

  • Château de Lézergué produces approximately 200 KL cider per year, or between 2-3 million bottles).

Menez Brug - Fouesnant, France

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Stats:

  • 25 yr old father to son transition company

  • 10 hectares of M106 orchards

  • 20 main varieties

  • Buys in local fruit

  • Uses no acid fruit

  • Common to grow the local powerful varieties and buy in more general fruit (70 varieties known locally)

Produces:

  • 10 tons of apple/hectare with no management and 20-25 with management

  • Intensive cultivation will produce 65 tons/hectare, though there is a clear perception that high density does not produce good flavored apples /cider

200,000 btls cider /yr (AOC)

Keeving trick: Keep cellar records on antique slate.

Keeving trick: Keep cellar records on antique slate.

2000 btls Lambig /yr

6000 btls Pommeau (AOC)

Notes on the region and the orchard:

  • The soil is shallow so the trees are a bit smaller, and there is not much nitrogen in the soil.

  • Pruning for light air flow purposes

  • Sprays copper sulfate and magnesium, for scab and bacterial control

  • Very high acid soil so each 3 yrs add  Lime to raise the pH

  • Makes use of the communal weather station to time sprays

Harvest:

  • All mechanized from sept to November

  • Apples stored in apple bins 2 weeks to sweat (if hand picked)

  • Machine harvested fruit is presses the next day

  • Apples are piled in 4 variety groups

The pressing:

  • Wash, sort, grind

  • Macerate in a tank for 1-2 hours sometimes overnight! To calm the tannins and only with low overnight temps.

  • Maceration is judged by total browning of pomace.

  • Pressing for 2 hours in a large bladder press (slow clear extraction)

  • Pump into 10,000 L tanks at 8-10 degrees C.

  • Add PME at pump in

  • When tank is full (2 days of pressing) add CaCl and pump cycle to blend for 1 hour.

The Brown hat cometh:

  • 2-3 days after CaCl the hat forms and between 5 and 12 days to be completely formed.

  • When hat is big and strong they will rack of the clear juice underneath.

  • Fermentation:

  • 5g/hL SO2 as juice fills tank and 5g/hL more when tank is full then 3 more g at bottling

  • As yeast blooms cider is repeatedly racked to maintain a rate of S.G. 1.002 / week

  • All at 8-10 degrees- if rate is too high then will use filter to reduce yeast population

  • Usually stabilizes at 1.030

  • Crossflows at  1.028 and pitches commercial yeast for bottle conditioning

 

Then we went to meet the Mayor.

Le Royer - Saint-Fraimbault, France

Cidrerie Leroyer - Cidermaker Stephen Leroyer

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La Poulardière, 61350 Saint-Fraimbault, France

+33 2 33 38 31 96

 

Farming Characteristics:

440 acre farm:

  • 25 acres dedicated to standard apple tree production

  • 415 acres dedicated to pasture and milk production

  • 100% Organic

Leroyer produces 150-200 tons of fruit per year from the 25 acres which are on traditional high-stem trees.  Of that production, 50% are apple and 50% are pears, all for the production of cider and perry.  As is traditional, cows are grazed under the trees during the growing season and taken to pasture six weeks before harvest.

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Processing:

Apples are harvested by machine in two picks.  The first is said to be for the production of calvados and the latter for the production of cider.

Apples may be stored for a few days in wood bins.  Leroyer uses a water bath for cleaning and a grater for milling.  They prefer no maceration time before loading into a bladder press (Bucher RPF22 closed cage).  Total time in the press can be up to 2.5 hrs and maximum pressure in 2 bar.

 

Fermentation:

Leroyer utilizes 5000L variable capacity fiberglass tanks for keeving.  He suggest investing in stainless for new cideries as the fiberglass is under scrutiny and may not be allowed in the future.  

Leroyer prefers bittersweet apples at the ripest stages to produce the chapeau brun.  Higher pH ranges produce better chapeau brun.  Target pH’s are 3.7-3.8.  Acids, as malic, are often used to adjust the pH if it is too high.  Fermentation temps to produce the chapeau brun are kept under 10 degree Celsius.  

Cave de la Loterie - Clecy, France

The standard orchard at Cave de Loterie

The standard orchard at Cave de Loterie

This was one of the more idyllic orchards we visited. We started in their standard orchard on a gently sloping hill. It was very serene, widely spaced, tall trees with a green grass floor and birds singing all around. The top portion of the standard orchard was planted in 1999, the lower part two years later. Their operation is focused on apples and pears, no livestock or other farming ventures are a part of their cidery.

Orchard/Fruit

Their orchard contains 16 hectares of apples and 4 hectares of pears in both standard and bush systems. Their standard orchards are 120 trees per hectare while the bush orchards are at 650 trees per hectare. In their orchard they grow 30 apple varieties and eight pear varieties. Currently all of their orchards are organic and have been since 2009 after a three year transition period. Though they started by planting their standard orchard, all of their new plantings are in bush style. They plan for harvest in 7-8 years in their bush orchards and 15-20 years in their standard orchards. When it comes to fruit quality between the two growing systems they do not see any noticeable difference. They believe that more fruit quality variation comes from the soil type rather than the rootstock or growing method.

Their most problematic disease in their orchard is apple scab. They use sulfur and copper to manage this as both are approved for organic production. All new plantings however are done with scab resistant varieties. Another method they use to mitigate scab is to mow after leaf fall to reduce the leaf matter available for the spores to overwinter on.

They typically mow their orchard five times per year. As of the end of May they have already been through two times. They prefer the grass to be 3-4” at harvest.

All of their fruit is machine harvested between September 25th and December 15-20th , including pears. They typically harvest three times. The first when the first fruit starts to drop, then eight to ten days later. During the final harvest they shake the trees to remove all the fruit.

In their orchards they average 15-20 tonnes of fruit per hectare. Some varieties will produce 35-40 tonnes per hectare one year but nothing the following. They will pick 200-250 tonnes of fruit per year from their orchards each year. Much of their orchards are young so the yield is lower than what it should be. Plant de Blanc is one of the most used varieties for perry in this region very small, round. The tree has a strange growth habit, lots of blind wood and areas of large fruit clusters.

The scratter for processing fruit for maceration.

The scratter for processing fruit for maceration.

Fruit processing

They process apples the day after they harvest, with pears they harvest in the morning and press in the afternoon. They harvest by variety, but blend at pressing. 10-12 tonnes of fruit per day is their capacity and they typically achieve a 60% yield. They use water channels to move fruit from bulk storage areas to their elevator and to the press. All fruit is hand sorted as it passes on the conveyor to the mill. They macerate for 1-2 hours, but this is just while the pomace is waiting to be loaded into the press. Sometimes they macerate the pears, but this is done in the press. If they hold the pear pomace for any time prior to pressing it will become very difficult to press the juice. Their press time is about two hours, it is a three tonne press

 

Fermentation

They test nitrogen levels in the juice and at bottling. They look for 20-40 ppm at bottling, 80 at bottling is too much. If the juice comes in with very low nitrogen they may not even test at bottling.

Fermentation is carried out in fiberglass tanks. Once the juice is in the tank he adds PME, then racks off when the chapeau brun forms. Optimum rate of fermentation is 2-4 SG per week. If the rate gets to 5 degrees per week they will filter to slow the fermentation with a DE filter. This will only be a partial filter, not the entire volume.

Notes

Their building was 4 years old, built into the side of the hill to facilitate temperature regulation. It was insulated but not temperature controlled. All wood from their prunings is chipped and they use the chips to heat their home. They also use wood around newly planted trees to keep the roots cool and reduce weed competition

Ciderie Traditionelle du Perche - Le Theil, France

Our cidermakers engrossed in some serious learning.

Our cidermakers engrossed in some serious learning.


We were greeted at Cidrerie Traditionelle du Perche in a very tour-centric manner. After a brief introduction and a few off-the-bat questions we were guided into a small auditorium for a video presentation. It contained your standard harvest, press, and bottling information designed for casual cider tours.The orchard contained 23,000 trees that they grew certifiably organic. During the previous year, they had harvested 300 tons of apples from that crop. The orchard is planted on a sandy type soil. It yields a smaller quantity in fruit but they are assured that what they lose in quantity is made up for by more robust sugar content. In the orchard they utilize IPM with the installation of ten nesting boxes per acre for bluetits. The birds eat 30,000 insects annually.

Harvest takes place starting in mid October and runs through the end of December. They used to hand-harvest and sweat their apples, but have gone by the way of the rest of France it seems, and mechanically harvest. By that method they collect ten tons a day and work through the trees three to four times as the fruit matures over the season to collect windfalls. Apples are taken straight to the press where they are rinsed, sorted, then washed again before pressing. The pomace is macerated for only one hour. They press 3 tons of pomace a day using a bladder press. Average yield is 50 L per ton. On this orchard they recycle their pressed cakes as feed for cattle.

Variable-capacity tanks are used in addition to fiberglass, here.

Variable-capacity tanks are used in addition to fiberglass, here.

In the tanks they then add their PME at 7 mL per 100 L & calcium chloride at 1 kg per 1000 L, and wait for the Chapeau Brun to form. It was interesting to note here that they claimed to wait 1-3 weeks after adding PME before adding the calcium chloride. Our host cider maker says he SMELLS when the cap has risen. From here the cider ferments for 2-4 months. They use no external energy to keep the tanks cold. I was surprised to find that they had a brand new facility, but only used partial cellaring by keeping their tank room underground, to keep the fermentation room cool. Sometimes it’ll be 5 degrees C, and other times 20. If they find it’s too warm and cannot achieve a successful keeve, they will just leave the apples on the ground longer and harvest at a later date. It’s also interesting to note here that in order to slow fermentation, they have actually racked their cider twice in one day, but will not filter. The purpose being that they want the yeast to work and remove the nitrogen, not just remove the yeast load.

Here is where we first encountered the idea of tall, slender tanks being crucial to keeving (so it has been claimed). According to our host, if the tank is taller than two meters, the cap will not form. A narrow tank is essential. If it is too wide or tall, the forming bits will float around and break up. Some people swear by this. Other people have said it’s complete nonsense.

During fermentation they aim for an FSU drop of 1 point per week. If it goes faster than that they will use that cider for calvados. Finished cider is bottled and stored for 3 months before selling. They look for 2-3 bars of pressure in the bottle, equivalent to 3-5 points drop in gravity in the bottle. They send the bottles to the lab and test for yeast but not nitrogen content.

Cyril Zangs - Saint-Germain-De-Livet, France

Cyril Zang with Rick from Liberty Cider Works.

Cyril Zang with Rick from Liberty Cider Works.

Stats:

3 hectares of standard Orchard with cattle underneath ¾ of the year

17 apple varieties

Produces 6000-20,000 bottles/year depending on the harvest

Collectively: 25% bittersweet

10% Sweet Acid

Rest are sweets

Harvest:

All by hand, no tractors used or owned. Shake and collect from ground into 25Kilo onion bags.

These bags are then left to sweat/rest for a 1 month in the cider barn- Though the later harvested fruit will sometimes rest for 2 months.

Blending at the press: Apples are blended at the press to create different editions from the harvest

Pressing from Sept thru Dec

Fermentation in Fiberglass tanks: Does not do the true keeve but racks off repeatedly to create the incomplete fermentation.

1) Juice at S.G. 1.060 into tank with no temp control all ambient dependent.

2) before losing 5 points rack off

3) rack off 4-5 times to achieve a fermentation rate of 1.002/week

4) bottle at S.G. 1011-1.014

5) bottle condition for 2-3 months

6) Move to riddling racks and compact yeast with standard riddling technique.

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6) disgorge, and top off, and cork and cage

 

Notes: really moldy ceilings, tiny space, delightfully aromatic ciders  with a low acid high tannin profile. Slight hints of tobacco resounding.

Ecusson - Livarot, France

Some stylish gentlemen at Ecusson.

Some stylish gentlemen at Ecusson.

After a lunch that featured a Prosciutto salad that would soon become legend, we made our way to one of the larger cider producers we visited in France. The Ecusson facility had been being used to press and ferment cider since 1919. We arrived shortly after 1:30pm and immediately put on hairnets and jackets. The bottling line was going to be shutting down at 2pm, so our host – “Head Cider Master” Philipe began our tour by showing us their bottling process. (Despite being one of two facilities in France that made us wear some sort of personal hygiene equipment, the overall cleanliness was still consistent with the rest of France: surprising, to say the least).

Trick for keeving massive volumes: Legendary prosciutto salad.

Trick for keeving massive volumes: Legendary prosciutto salad.

 

The bottling line was a large, rotary line capable of cranking out 12,000 bottles an hour. The line is capable of both 750ml and 330ml bottles - On this day they were packaging 750ml bottles. Like most producers in France, the majority of their production was ending up in green 75cl bottles (that were being stored outside before bottling). The entire process included everything from a cork and cage machine (that housed the corks outside in a large silo), to tunnel pasteurizer, a series of bottle labelers, a cardboard case erector, and palletizer.  We then were led in to their warehouse that included a lifetime supply of packaged cider, including a variety of brands for different markets and stores. Next, we walked over to begin the tour of their pressing process.

 

Between September 15 and November 30, this facility receives anywhere between 3000-7000 tonnes a day from surrounding orchards. All of the apples arrive on trucks (not in bins) and are dumped on the cement. The location of where they are dumped is how they are sorting varietals into piles and separating for different product lines. At the time of pressing, they dump the apples in a large cement basin that has a channel of flowing water running through the bottom. This channel serves to both rinse the apples and float them through an underground float facility towards the direction of the grinder. During this process they are performing quality control checks on the apples, for both maturity and removing foreign objects such as field debris or rocks.  They currently have two large piston presses and one smaller press, but they will soon be replacing the smaller press with a third large Bucher press. From there, the must heads to tanks in their cellar. Their cellar was temperature controlled rooms with 9 x 3000 hL tanks. The rate of fermentation would dictate what product it would become, either Brut or Doux. Ecusson had an extensive lab and QC protocol, and was running a variety of tests all year long.

Massive volumes.

Massive volumes.

 

One of the most interesting and unique aspects of our Ecusson visit was a brand new machine they were calling their “continuous keeving machine”. To “keeve”, they are racking through this machine that adds both PME and Calcium chloride and then simulates the initial gas production that comes with the start of fermentation. They are pumping nitrogen bubbles through the must, which is removing the same macro-moleculars that a traditional keeve through a simulated process. This continuous keeve machine allows them to keeve in half the time a traditional keeve would. Even though they have this fancy new technique, this past year was the first year they had the machine it so they still experimenting are figuring out how to best utilize it. Therefore, their primary keeving technique is adding pectinase to get the macro-moleculars to drop out of suspension and then rack off those. They are, however, also keeving the traditional “chapeau brun” way but in very little quantities comparatively.

 

Side Note: Employing over 70 people, they are capable on splitting their team into three different groups. The time of year will determine what these teams are doing. For example, around harvest time in the fall two teams will be pressing and one will be in the cellar/lab, while in the spring and summer two (to sometimes all three) will be running the bottling line.

 

Philipe and his cellar manager guided us through a tasting of their ciders in their retail store and were most generous. They even ran out to the bus to gift us a couple cases of cider for the road!

Le Pere Jules - Saint-Michel d'Halescourt, France

In front of a tonneau that was coopered in 1781, still in use for aging Calvados.

In front of a tonneau that was coopered in 1781, still in use for aging Calvados.

The 40 hectares of fruit bearing property strives to be as self-sustaining as possible by allowing cattle to graze in the orchard.  During the multiple month harvest, there is another 40 hectares that the cattle are moved to.  Roughly 60 varieties are grown with some of the highest producing trees being 200-year-old pear which yield up to 1 ton per tree in a heavy year.  The current cidermaker is 4th generation and another family member is a cooper who makes the barrels that are used in calvados, pommeau, and even some cider fermentation.

Standard orchard including standard cows.

Standard orchard including standard cows.

After pressing, the juice is held at 8 degrees Celsius to set the chapeau brun and then 12 degrees for fermentation.  It takes anywhere between 7-15 days to set the gel on top and if you wait too long it will drop which is considered a failed keeve.  Finished product is targeting a minimum 10% acidity and max of 15%.  If needed, some yeast can be added to absorb extra nutrients that might make the bottles over pressurized at the end of the process.  The desired bottle pressure is 2 bar at 20degrees.  Cidermaker shared that he has not had experience with a successful keeving of pear.

 

Domaine Drouin - Coudray-Rabut, France

One of the barrel rooms at Drouin, full of Pommeau.

One of the barrel rooms at Drouin, full of Pommeau.

Set in the beautiful Norman countryside, Domaine Drouin is of an average size for most artisan cider and calvados producers. They process close to 200 tonnes of apples per year at their bucolic facility. They have a pretty standard processing operation for what we have seen in Normandy and Brittany. They bring in machine harvested fruit from the ground as it falls off the standard trees throughout the season.

The fruit is processed same day or next day after harvest. The apples are ground through a mill and pressed. There is no specific extended maceration besides the default several hours of rest while the previous press is finishing. Calcium chloride and PME is used to achieve a chapeau brun. There tanks are narrow, high 2000L tanks. We were told that you can not successfully keeve in tanks bigger than 5000L, however we know this to be untrue as we saw keeving tanks up to 300,000L in action and heard of producers using 500,000L tanks. The juice is kept between 8C-12C while the chapeau brun is being formed. After a complete formation and the presence of clarified juice under the cap, the cider is racked into secondary vessels and allow continue to ferment. Racking and partial filtration are used to keep the speed of the fermentation in check. When the cider drops to the appropriate sugar level for the specific style (brut, demi-sec, etc), then the cider is filtered completely to halt fermentation. They then send samples of the cider to a wine lab to check if the cider, once packaged, will re-ferment partially then STOP due to lack of nitrogen. If the lab says the cider won't stop, they will have to reduce nitrogen in the cider by allowing fermentation to continue again, and filtering another time. The producer expected a 10g/L drop in sugar levels once the cider was packaged (for carbonation).

Part of the still used for Calvados production.

Part of the still used for Calvados production.

Of note, Domaine Drouin did seem to focus much of their efforts into Calvados production. 

 

Domaine du Clos Fougeray - Saint-Michel d'Halescourt, France

211 Route De Pommereux
76 440 Saint Michel D'Halescourt
Phone: 02 35 90 61 39
http://www.domaine-duclos-fougeray.com/

Cidermaker/Guide: Herve' Duclos (owner)

duclos-fougeray-13.jpg

Fruit: Uses 24 varieties of traditional French cider apples.

Orchard: 18 HA located on an east-facing hillside. Soils mainly Jurassic clay and limestone. Orchard is sheep grazed, no additional fertilizers or amendments used. [Rootstock type?] Orchard is organized by zone, each with associated varietal and/or fruit classification.

Harvest practice: All fruit is allowed to drop. Harvesting by mechanical sweeper. At end of season, hand-shaking of trees is sometimes performed to clear remaining fruit. Harvested apples are sorted on-site by orchard zone, allowing at-press blending by varietal and/or fruit classification.

Fruit processing: At-press blending generally used, with target pH of 3.8. All processing takes place at ambient (outdoor) temperatures. Hammer mill creates blended pomace, fed into bladder press. No maceration procedures per se; pomace often sits 1-2 hours as part of typical cycle pre-press and concurrent with press procedures. Three hour maximum maceration, according to Hervé.

Juice preparation: Uses PME (Pectin Esterase Enzymes) and calcium chloride, added to juice in blending/chilling tank; juice is chilled to approximately 8º C before racking into fiberglass fermentation tanks stored in 8º C cold room. No SO2 added at this time.

Herve giving us the real talk on keeving.

Herve giving us the real talk on keeving.

Keeve process: Naturally-occurring yeast for all fermentation. Hervé has developed a unique system to lift the chapeau brun, using a flexible impeller pump to introduce ambient oxygen into pump-over stream, helping lift the cap more quickly and reliably than with yeast metabolics alone. Cap lift and development are tracked with aid of translucent strips on side of each tank (non-painted fiberglass surface). Keeved juice racked from bottom, using inline sight glass to monitor racking process, i.e., when cap material appears, juice has been extracted.

Fermentation process: Fermentation occurs at target 8º C. Slow fermentation pace [degrees drop/week?] maintained as required using racking and cross-flow filtering. Final filter cycle used to arrest fermentation at desired SG target.

Maturation/Conditioning: Completed cider packaged with mobile in-line carbonation/bottling machine. Bottle-conditioned variants may utilize cultured yeast. No pasteurization. Bottles are stored on-site in ambient temperatures for aging/conditioning prior to labeling and sale.

Additional Notes:

  • Following our tour, Hervé had lunch with the group at nearby restaurant Auberge du Beau-Lieu, just outside Forges-les-Eaux, 2 Route du Montadet, 76440 Le Fosse.

  • Hervé was given a bottle of Liberty Ciderworks Manchurian Crabapple cider as a token of thanks.