Nothing says autumn like biting into a crisp and zesty apple, and some of the very best in the country spring from Virginia soil. from u-pick orchards to cider festivals, there's no better time of year - and no better place - to celebrate this noble fruit!
Healthy for Centuries
Apple orchards have been an intrinsic part of the Virginia countryside since the dawn of the colonial period. Settlers imported European apple varieties and relied on naturally fermenting hard cider—the leading beverage of the times—as a safer drink than diseased or polluted well water. The fact that cider, besides staving off waterborne illness, promoted a certain loose, relaxed mindset undoubtedly boosted its popularity.
Some cidery Founding Father trivia: John Adams downed a tankard of hard cider daily. The campaign that kicked off George Washington’s political career encouraged voters to the polls with nearly 150 gallons of hard cider and other motivating beverages. And Thomas Jefferson turned out impressive batches of cider from his well-tended Monticello orchards.
Visiting Monticello today is one wonderful way to explore Virginia’s orchard heritage. But you can also do so by following Jefferson’s recommendation and tasting heirloom apples like the Albemarle Pippin, still cultivated in the state.
The Virginia Apple Industry Today: A Snapshot
Inaugurated with little sylvan colonial orchards, Virginia’s $235-million-per-annum apple industry today encompasses more than 100 commercial growers and turns out between five and six million bushels annually.
The state’s apple harvest peaks in September, October, and early November. The Shenandoah Valley is the center for apple production, although there are also plenty of orchards in the Roanoke Valley to the southwest as well as in Albemarle, Rappahannock, Patrick, and Carroll counties. Take Foggy Ridge Cider, for example, an award-winning cidery located in the southwest region of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Foggy Ridge makes over five different ciders, with apples ranging from Ribston Pippin to Graniwinkle - but don't expect the ciders to stay exactly the same year after year. With three vast orchards, each season is bound to be different - keep an eye out for new flavors each year!
Touring Virginia’s Apple Country
What better excuse for a fall visit to Virginia than apple season? Many Commonwealth orchards, such as Carter Mountain Orchard near Monticello and Mark-Miller Orchards near Winchester, give you the timeless, all-ages autumnal pleasure of picking your own ripe apples during the day. You can even make a night out of it at Carter Mountain Orchard with their Thursday Evening Sunset Series, where each Thursday from Mid-May to the end of September, they stay open until 9 p.m. with dinner, live music, and hard cider. (Don't forget to stop by their Country Store either, where you can find tons of local goodies to bring home with you, from apple butter to fruit jams, or even just a couple slices of their famous apple pie!)
And besides fruit in its raw freshness, there’s a whole universe of apple products to indulge in. Take White House Foods, for instance, a Shenandoah Valley fixture since 1908: The bounty of the company’s extensive orchards goes into its famous applesauce, apple butter, apple juice, apple cider vinegar, and other apple-anchored provisions.
That venerable American staple of hard cider took a hit in the face of beer’s explosion and especially Prohibition, but, thankfully, we’re living during an honest-to-goodness cider revival. Continue your love affair with Fall by visiting some of Virginia’s outstanding cideries, from Bold Rock Cider and Castle Hill Cider in gorgeous Appalachian countryside to Blue Bee Cider in downtown Richmond. Foggy Ridge Cider will be sampling cider apples (and cider, of course) at its Apple Harvest Celebration on October 8, while Albemarle Ciderworks is throwing its Apple Harvest Festival—with food, live music, hayrides, and other delights—on November 5. And then there’s Cider Week Virginia from November 11 to 20.