Eden Specialty Ciders: A Steward of the Environment
Aug 31, 2020 09:07PM
By Virginia Dean
The precision with which cidre de glace or ice cider is made is an art par excellence and results in a dessert wine rich in apple flavors. What is required is a geographical climate akin to Vermont, Canada, or northern Europe—places that are warm enough to grow apples yet cold enough for the weather to concentrate the flavors of the fruit naturally. No one knows this better than Eleanor and Albert Leger who founded Eden Specialty Ciders in 2007 after tasting ice cider in Montreal the previous winter.
The couple set up their company on an abandoned dairy farm and began experimenting in their basement with apples from the 2007 harvest at Scott Farms and Champlain Orchards. In addition to their own holistically managed orchard in West Charleston, they source apples in partnership with Yates Family Orchard of Hinesburg, Vermont; Scott Farm Orchard of Dummerston, Vermont; Heath Orchard of Stanstead, Quebec; Poverty Lane Orchards of Lebanon, New Hampshire; Sunrise Orchards of Cornwall, Vermont; and Windfall Orchard of Cornwall, Vermont.
“We make cider here in part because the Champlain Valley in Vermont is the historic apple growing region in the state,” says Orchardist Brad Koehler of Windfall Orchard where he grows over 80 varieties of apples as well as plums, pears, and cherries.
The first release of Eden’s signature Heirloom Blend ice cider was launched in the summer of 2008, and the business began to grow. They planted 1,000 trees from 2008 to 2010. Orchardist Ben Applegate joined the team in 2009.
In 2015, Albert returned to his full-time job as a high school chemistry teacher, leaving Eleanor, who retired early from a corporate career in business and product strategy, to lead Eden—now located in Newport, Vermont, and heading into its 14th harvest season.
Cider Like Fine Wine
The current success of the company is reflected in its expansion of offerings including dry champagne-method ciders, aperitifs, small batch cellar series, a red currant cider rosé, and, most recently, cans with 100 percent local apples and no added sugar. Eden’s signature cider is its Brut Nature dry champagne method.
“It’s a fantastic dinner cider,” says Eleanor, “produced using the same approach as fine champagne. The apples used are a blend of tannic and heirloom varieties that give it the structure, roundness, and acidity of fine wine but clocks in at eight percent ABV, zero carbs, and 135 calories per 8 ounce glass.”
Brut Nature has a balanced flavor with notes of dried apples, pineapple, citrus, and hay that go with a wide variety of food, from oysters to mustard-braised chicken to grilled flatiron steak frites.
Racking Up the Accolades
“It has won several gold medals and a Best in Class over the years at the Great Lakes International Cider & Perry Competition, the largest professional cider competition in the world,” says Eleanor. “We produce this cider in 375 milliliter bottles for single serve in restaurants, and it has been carried in leading American restaurants including Hen of the Wood here in Vermont, Gramercy Tavern and Balthazar in New York City, and Bad Hunter in Chicago.”
Now with the pandemic that has resulted in the closure of restaurants, Eden employees are turning their attention to cans with the launch of its new labels: Peak Bloom and Deep Cut, both 100 percent locally and sustainably sourced with no preservatives. Peak Bloom is off-dry, clean, and refreshing, and Deep Cut is dry, hazy, and fruity, Eleanor notes.
Like other small businesses, Eden has been impacted by the pandemic in the areas of product distribution and internal processing as well as employee retention. However, the cidery is slowly emerging from the viral economic hit and is now enjoying an increase in direct consumer orders as well as distribution growth.
Another reflection of Eden’s success is the extraordinary apples with which it works, including European tannic cider varieties, old American heirloom varieties, and classic Vermont McIntosh.
“Our job at Eden is to keep showcasing these apples and the local small farms that grow them,” says Eleanor. “We do that by producing a variety of ciders that express the tastes of these apples. That takes time and care in order to produce great flavor without manipulation or use of chemicals or additives. Our ability to do this is reflected in the large number of awards our ciders have won on a national and international scale.”
Eden Ciders, for example, has won a Best in Class award at the Great Lakes International Cider & Perry Competition for eight years in a row. It is also the first cidery to be awarded a Snail of Approval from Slow Food Vermont. In addition to working with distributors in 20 states, its ciders have been exported to Canada, the United Kingdom, and South Korea.
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