Visiting a small organic apple orchard and cidery on Salt Spring Island, British Columbia, Canada
Canada’s Gulf Islands are located in the Strait of Georgia between mainland British Columbia and Vancouver Island. Salt Spring Island is the most frequently visited of the Gulf Islands. It is known for its artists, spectacular scenery, organic farms, and apples. Salt Spring Island grows over 500 apple varieties and hosts an annual Apple Festival at the end of September. Some of those apples wind up in cider.
Salt Spring Apple Company has an organic apple orchard and nursery on Salt Spring Island. Their tiny cidery, Ciderworks, produces 100% certified organic and estate grown cider. They make several varieties of alcoholic cider (often known as hard cider in the U.S. and Canada). I visited in October 2019 and tasted a few of the ciders. It was their first season of cider.
Ciderworks is in a beautiful location. (It is hard to find a not-beautiful location on Salt Spring!) Even on the grey, rainy day of my visit, the view was spectacular. Given that view, I asked owner Brian if they did events on the site. He said they’d just had their first one, a wedding, but had no particular plans for hosting events. The sloping ground makes it a bit tricky. There is a nice flat plateau at the foot of the orchard, but toilet facilities are back up the hill.
Apples have been grown on Salt Spring Island for more than 100 years. In 1894, Salt Spring Islanders planted over 13,000 apple trees. Salt Spring Island shipped apples to nearby Vancouver and Victoria and across Western Canada. By the early 1920s, however, mass-grown apples from the Okanagan Valley and Washington State pushed Salt Spring Island apples out of the market. Today, there is a renewed interest and focus on growing organic apples on the island.
The orchard at Salt Spring Apple Co. was started in 2011 by Peri Lavender and Brian Webster with 360 dwarf trees. They planted annually until it was fully planted in 2016. They chose heritage apple varieties with a long track record, modern naturally disease-resistant varieties, and some quirky varieties from around the world. Today they grow over 365 varieties of apples.
They use the tall spindle training system for growing their trees. It allows the trees to grow relatively tall and narrow meaning more trees can be grown in the space. Branches are trained to grow up instead of out. They are pruned before they get too big or too old to encourage fruit production. A three-wire trellis is used to support the trees and keep the shallow rooted trees from tipping over when they are full of fruit. With this method, nearly 1,200 trees are grown per acre at Salt Spring Apple Company. In addition to making cider, Salt Spring Apple Company is a nursery offering apple trees for sale.
There were seven ciders available ranging from medium-dry to very dry with alcohol content ranging from 5.1% to 7.2%. I sampled three. The woman in the tasting room lined them up for me from sweetest to driest. She suggested I sample them in order and then go back and taste each of them again because I’d likely find they tasted different the second time.
Surprisingly, I was particularly fond of two at opposite ends of the spectrum. Medium-dry Firkin, made from the second pressing of every variety in the orchard, is their easiest-drinking cider and lowest in alcohol. It was light and refreshing. Very dry Serious Cider, made from traditional English and French cider apple varieties, was more deeply coloured and full of apple taste. Although it was the driest one, it tasted sweeter to me than the others. Perhaps that was because of the full-bodied apple flavour.
Ciderworks is located at 529 Fulford-Ganges Road on Salt Spring Island. They expect to sell almost all of their cider at that location or within two kilometers of where the apples were grown. The tasting room is open from noon to 5 pm Fridays through Sundays, or by appointment. The website says you can also drop in and ring the doorbell and see if someone is around to serve you at other times. (This seems like a very Salt Spring Island way of doing things!)
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