We drink a lot of cider from both coasts here on The Cider Press, but there are also exciting ciders coming out of the midwest. The cool climate of northern Michigan is ideal for growing cider apples and Black Star Farms is taking full advantage. We recently caught up with Lee Lutes, Head Winemaker at Black Star Farms, to chat about their cider.
Tell us a little about Black Star Farms and how you got started. In 1998 founding partners Kerm Campbell and Donald Coe purchased Sport Valley Farm, a 120 acre equestrian facility. Upon purchase, the partners realized that the farm presented a unique opportunity to create a winery and agricultural tourism destination, capturing the essence of the surrounding land and lakeshore. Plans were quickly developed to build a winery to process the 1998 vintage, employing Lee Lutes as winemaker. Lee was the former winemaker at Peninsula Cellars on Old Mission Peninsula and a Michigan native with winemaking experience in Italy. He knew the classic cool climate grape varieties could be successfully grown here.
How did you get involved with cider production? The interest in apple cider came from our other work with apples for distillation and apple wine, but also because apples are so much a part of Michigan's agricultural scene. At the time, now 10 years ago, there was very little going on in the state in the way of cider, so it seemed like a good opportunity for us.
Any advice for other winemakers out there that would like to try their hand at cider making? Use only high quality fruit, and use a blend of varieties. Keep the fermentations clean and bottle it quickly.
We drink a lot of coastal ciders here at The Cider Press but very few from the middle of the country. Can you tell us a bit about cider making in Michigan and how the terroir affects your ciders? Michigan is known for its long, cool growing seasons. This creates fruit with bright high notes and great acidity. This carries into the ciders, and if nothing else our ciders have a level of freshness to them that most people really find appealing.
What are some other Michigan ciders that we should be drinking? Uncle John's Cider Mill, Tandem Ciders, and Left Foot Charley.
We love the classic Michigan tart-cherry character of your cherry cider! Can you tell us a bit about the process of adding fruit to your cider? The cherry is made from a unique cherry called a Baleton Cherry—it is essentially a dark, tart cherry. We make a cider from this cherry, then blend it with the apple-based cider once it's been made. The cherry flavor and aromas just sing through and really play well off of the apple.
Are there any other American cideries that you are excited about right now?
Wandering Aengus, Tideview Ciders, Tieton Cider Works and Farnum Hill Ciders are all producing world-class ciders that we should all be consuming! These people are true artisans and their passion is reflected in their products.
Tasting Black Star Farms Cider
Aside from their many wines, Black Star Farms make two fantastic ciders. Their Hard Apple Cider (750ml, $10, 7% ABV) is slightly sweet with big tropical notes. Flavors of banana and papaya lead, with a secondary layer of citrus notes. The Hard Apple Cider is reminiscent of French cider in its balance of sweetness and acidity.
Of course, when your cider hales from a state renowned for their cherry harvest, you'd better make a cherry cider that delivers. Black Star Farms Hard Apple Cherry Cider (750ml, $10, 7% ABV) went well beyond my expectations. Slightly sweet, this cider is bursting with the flavor of freshly plucked tart cherries. It's puckering and intense, with a bit of cider complexity mingling amongst the big cherry notes. Serve this cider alongside vanilla ice cream on a hot summer day.