I love living in the country. I really do. We have so much to enjoy and have a richer life, in my opinion, here in the NRV than anyone could ever have in a city. Everything is better in the country, except for cell phone reception. Despite all the advances in communication (I’m still not sure what 4G is and I’ve decided I really don’t want to know) Saturday morning finds me standing on top of my old truck with cell phone pointed at the sky trying to dial my voice mail. I finally get through, type my password and get the following message: “Hi, it’s me, Dianne Flynt with Foggy Ridge Cidery and I would love for you to do a story on us.” Then my phone dies.
The following morning finds my wife and me headed down Rt. 100 out of Pearisburg towards Hillsville where we pick up 221 back towards Floyd. After no wrong turns we arrive at Foggy Ridge Cidery, completely unannounced into the controlled chaos of Dianne Flynt’s day. Two of her clients are there on business, discussing shipping (I learn that you can’t ship cider if it’s too hot, it can contribute to de-carbonization), cider production and quantities. Other customers are mingling in the tasting area, delighting in the complexities of the cider. Another client arrives from North Carolina to discuss utilizing cider that is too low in carbonation for use in bread making. Then, there’s the pesky writer and his photographer wife snooping all around taking pictures of everything and writing in little notebooks.
Despite all the commotion, Dianne proves to be charming and gracious. She entertains us all and none of us feel neglected. I’m drawn to her force of personality and hospitality. While awaiting my turn I notice the sheer number of publications that she has been in: Garden and Gun, Food and Wine, Bon Appétit, Richmond, Gourmet and Saveur all adorn her walls. A quote from Benjamin Franklin is on the cashiers table, “It is indeed bad to eat apples. It is better to make them all into cider.”
Dianne finishes her business with some customers and turns her attention to me. We jump in her SUV and she takes me to the upper orchards, where she interacts with her employees succinctly but with a personal note that I find very charming. She shows me where they planted their very first orchard in 1997 and I ask what drew her in to making Cider. She laughs. “I’ve never been asked that before.” She smiles to let me know that’s a joke. She becomes more serious and responds carefully: “The land spoke to me. We’re at 3,000 feet in elevation. Grapes won’t grow and we wanted something agricultural that would be sustainable. This is apple country and to be honest, making something out of the natural product had a great appeal to me.”
So she unhesitatingly launched into seven years of learning to make cider. Dianne traveled extensively, interning and studying under cider makers in England and taught herself through trial and error what types of apples her land would support and all the nuances of cider making. She explains to me that cider is a careful blend and balance of tannin, acid and sugar.
They bottle over 15,000 bottles of cider, mostly by hand, every year. The process begins with carefully selecting only the best apples from their orchards, which are all grown either on the farm or nearby. Over thirty varieties of apples are utilized in their ciders. They are then crushed, pressed and the juice is mixed and blended in accordance with Dianne’s specifications. The juice is then fermented for four to six weeks and then rested in stainless steel tanks to allow the flavors to marry into their respective tastes. The cider is then bottled and labeled. All the work is done on premises by Dianne and her staff, ensuring the highest quality product.
To be honest, I never really liked hard cider. I have found it to be too sweet and heavy for my tastes but her cider is divine. We try four of their more popular ciders in the following order: Serious Cider, First Fruit, Sweet Stayman and Pippin Gold. First Fruit was my favorite, though not by much. That’s a very serious group of contenders! First Fruit contained hints of crabapple, which I developed a fondness for as a kid on my Grandfather’s farm. Dianne explains to us that the majority of the apples that they use aren’t really all that great for eating as the tannins cause them to be quite bitter. Perhaps my taste in crabapples is an acquired one! Some of the apples that they use are what are known as “Found” apples, apple trees that are wild and have been quite literally found. To keep quality control in check, Dianne uses grafts of trees that have the specific qualities and tastes that she desires as it takes several years to go from a seedling to a product.
We enjoyed our trip to the Foggy Ridge Cidery very much. Their address is 1328 Pineview Road, Dugspur, Virginia near the Blue Ridge Parkway. Drop in on the weekends (Sunday is the slow day) and experience some truly delightful cider and the hospitality of a wonderful host. Their web site is www.foggyridgecider.com and you can find them on Facebook, keywords Foggy Ridge Cider. Enjoy!