Apple orchardists hit hard by recent weather drops but cideries are moving forward with strong production

Cider harvest making do

Casey Richardson

Apple farmers in the Okanagan got hit hard this year with tough weather conditions, a lack of workers and low returns on their products. But one apple-based industry is seeing good numbers.

Some cideries have been filling up barrels, saving their product from the deep freeze a couple weeks back. 

“There were some late varieties that were still on the trees that we were worried about. So the day before the big freeze we were out there furiously picking trying to get everything off,” said Ted Vollo, co-owner and cider maker at the Summerland Heritage Cider Company.

His team rushed over 200 bins inside before the frost hit. 

Those concerns were held by most in the area, worrying about what the early negative temperatures would do to fruit not picked yet. 

“It’s the same one every winery or other apple growers in the region had, which is a couple weeks ago we went down to an almost -10 C, which means all of our apple cell walls would have exploded and turned to mush,” Annelise Simonsen, director of Creek and Gully Cider said.

“We had about two hundred bins of apples left on the trees at that time. We had every member of my family out there just ripping the apples off the trees.”

The Summerland Research and Development Centre, which plays a big part in the agricultural community, warned Vollo that if it got to -7 C, the actual juice quality could be negatively affected to the point that it might not be usable for cider.

“You can taste an apple side to side with one that was frozen down to minus seven and it’s a significant flavour difference. But so far, so good.”

And if apples are damaged by blemishes or slight weather-caused imperfections, they can be used in cider, which means the not so picture-perfect fruit is prime for pressing. 

“The more mangled and smaller the fruit is, the better it is for cider. If you have a smaller apple, you have a more skin to juice ratio. Anything that's got a blemish on it or looks a little funky, doesn't matter when it's turned into juice.” 

Vollo added that this year was also challenging due to an overall labour shortage caused by COVID-19, but they were fortunate enough to get all they employees they needed.

“We had enough pickers and all that but when you have just enough, you don’t really have any option, say to move people along that aren’t meeting your expectations. You’re stuck with those people, so as an employer that gets more difficult.”

Creek and Gully saw people coming out from the community to help them out and get as much produce as they could. 

“Getting employees has been weird as well,” Simonsen said. “But we’ve had some amazing people help us out and we’re still picking.”

Creek and Gully has 55 acres of apples, meaning around a million pounds of apples produced each year. They tend to take only five per cent of the product to use for cider and produce a small amount of just 2,000 cases of cider. 

This year they had enough for themselves and sold varieties to other cideries. One of the varieties they're happy to bring to people’s attention are the locals created in Summerland. 

Spartan, Salish, Silken, are just some of the S-named varietals developed in the area.

“It’s funny like people come into the tasting room and we’re always like ‘Can you name a Summerland developed apple?’ And lots of people have no idea. It’s a neat part of the education experience,” Votto added.

“It’s a part of the tasting room conversation that we have,” Simonsen said. “We have Sunrise and Salich from them... We’re also working on an experimental varietal.” 

Both companies consider themselves fortunate enough to be doing well through a tough season for many farmers and apple growers, and hope to see the community continue to support local.

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