Get into the spirit of autumn…

Above: Wild Hare Cidery, Leesburg, courtesy photo

Spend an afternoon at a cidery 

This October, as was last October, is Virginia Wine Month. I hope you enjoyed many of Virginia’s great wines this past year! For this year’s fall feature, however, the spotlight turns to another great Virginia libation, perfect for the autumnal season…hard cider.

By traditional definition, hard cider is an alcoholic beverage made from the fermented juice of apples. Whereas apple cider and apple juice are essentially the same thing, separated only by filtration and pasteurization processes, hard cider is its own unique drink. An ancient beverage, hard cider has no discernible origins, which essentially holds true for apples as well. But, it’s been around seemingly forever and is produced all over the world. It’s wildly popular in Europe; in fact, the UK has the highest consumption rate in the world, plus many top producing hard cider companies are located there.

Styles and flavors of hard cider can vary greatly, as well as the regulations imposed upon its production, depending on where and how it’s produced. For example, Canadian regulations state that cider can’t be called cider unless apples are used. Being that one can ferment juice from an array of fruits – pears for example – this is an important distinction. Also, alcohol levels and apple juice percentages help to define various styles, from dry and traditional to fruity and modern; and additional contents such as sugar or extra fruit juice can also come into play, giving hard cider that much more variance.

Closer to home…

Virginia ranks 6th in the nation in apple production (by acreage) and has quietly become a haven for hard cider lovers, with more than twenty cideries peppered throughout the state. Ciders, in general, have a textural history in the Commonwealth, prominent in Colonial times and in the 19th century. In more recent times, Virginia became the first state in the country to have “Cider Week,” as declared in 2012 by then Governor McDonnell. This year’s week of festivities will be November 15 – 24th, leading up to Thanksgiving, as is tradition.   

Around the greater NoVA region, there are several wonderful cideries to visit, and spending a weekend afternoon at one of the many is a fantastic way to get connected with the fall season.

Winchester Ciderworks, courtesy photo

In Middleburg, the heart of horse country, there’s a beautiful cidery called Mt. Defiance Cidery & Distillery. Housed in a stunning barn – their Cidery Barn – Mt. Defiance partners Marc Chretien (cider maker) and Peter Ahlf (distiller) have created the perfect backdrop to enjoy their handcrafted, small batch ciders. There’s a separate distillery in downtown Middleburg that also functions as a tasting room for both their ciders and spirits. 

Back at the cidery, which sits atop a hill on the eastern edge of town, Mt. Defiance offers both classic and craft ciders, ranging from traditional farmhouse blends to single varieties. In addition to some tasty fruit-infused ciders, such as blueberry and ginger, they produce an English ale yeast influenced cider called Old Volstead’s, similar in both taste and finish reminiscent of, you guessed it, an English ale.

Their featured cider is called General’s Reserve Hard Cider, aged in an oak bourbon barrel. It’s strong, dark and complemented with whiskey notes plus hints of vanilla and caramel, and was named in honor of General John Allen, Commanding General of all forces in Afghanistan from 2011-2013, for whom Chretien served as political advisor while there.

Head west on Highway 50 for about 35 miles and you wind up in Winchester. Just northwest of town is Winchester Ciderworks. Stephen Schuurman, a British winemaker turned cider master, and Diane Kearns, a fifth generation orchardist of German/English descent, partnered up less than a decade ago and created this jewel of a place. As they’ll tell you, “marrying old world tradition and new world know-how” is what makes Winchester Ciderworks unique.

Offering four different signature ciders and five barrel-aged creations, there are plenty of great options to enjoy. Their flagship cider, Malice, is a ‘proper English cider,’ a slowly fermented and lightly effervescent blend of five apple varieties. The barrel-aged ciders are called Wicked Wiles and are aged for more than nine months in oak barrels that were once used for the aging of different spirits, including bourbon, rye, brandy and rum…all of them are uniquely their own experience to be enjoyed.

As is cider house tradition, WC also offers a reserve series of ciders called Thwaite’s Reserve. Named after James Thwaite, who settled the family farm in 1880 and planted the first five hundred York Imperial and Baldwin apple trees, these ciders are slowly, naturally fermented using the yeasts abundant within the apples, and bottled with no filtration nor carbonation, as in the times of Thwaite himself.

Mt. Defiance and Winchester Ciderworks are just two of the many great cideries in NoVA. Other notable stops include Cobbler Mountain (Delaplane), Wild Hare (Leesburg), Hinson Ford Cider & Mead (Amissville) and Lost Boy Cider (Alexandria). This fall get to know your ciders and visit a local cidery…it’s another great way to experience all that is wonderful about Virginia.

Until next time, Happy Cider’ing and Vino’ing!

Mark Luna
About Mark Luna 30 Articles
Mark Luna is a Portfolio Rep for Roanoke Valley Wine Company. He holds a WSET Level 3 (Advanced) certification through the Wine & Spirits Education Trust. He is also a certified Italian Wine Scholar, graduating with Honors, through the prestigious Wine Scholar Guild. Both certifications are industry recognized post-nominal accreditations. Through and beyond his work for RVWC, Mark writes, teaches and guest-speaks about wine in a variety of both industry and privately held events. He lives in Warrenton with his family. Mark can be reached at

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