Selecting Ontario’s champion ciders

February 17, 2015

Bragging rights are on the line this week as the Ontario Fruit and Vegetable Convention (OFVC) holds its annual cider competitions.

This year marks the fifth anniversary of the Sweet Cider competition, and last year, organizers gave makers of hard cider an opportunity to participate as well by introducing the Craft Cider competition.

Sweet Ontario cider has been a staple product for many Ontario apple growers and packers for years; they use it as an outlet for apples that don’t quite meet fresh market quality standards, due to damage from weather, pests or disease, for example.

That’s how apple grower Hector Delanghe of Delhaven Orchards near Blenheim, Ontario got his cider start.

A hailstorm in 1976 damaged his apple crop and he started making cider as a way to find a home for all the fruit he couldn’t sell.

Almost 40 years later, Delhaven is well known for its cider. Sales are growing 15-18 per cent annually, and they’ve earned numerous top three finishes in OFVC Sweet Cider competition, including first place in 2013.  In 2014, the competition attracted 13 entries.

Hard or craft cider is enjoying a boom in Ontario, due in part to the strength of the local food movement. According to the Ontario Craft Cider Association, it is the fastest growing alcoholic beverage category in both Canada and the United States.

In 2008, there was one cidery in Ontario; by 2014, that number had risen to 19 with more in the works.

Many of these small craft cideries use traditional methods and North American apple varieties like McIntosh, Ida Red, Spy, Gala, Paula Red and Russet to make their ciders.

Some cideries, like Picton’s County Cider Company, are also working to bring back traditional cider apple varieties that have largely been forgotten and replaced with sweeter varieties better suited to eating.

County Cider’s Grant Howes, for example, is working on propagating rare apple cider varieties from England and France, such as Bulmer’s Norman, Michelin and Dabinet that are the mainstays of Europe’s cider production. 

According to a study by the George Morris Centre, Ontario’s craft cideries are projecting annual sales of $35 million by 2018, and are expected to be using up to 10 per cent of the provincial apple crop.

There are two categories in the OFVC cider competition this year:  “common” cider made from wild, crab, or traditional cider apples, and specialty/flavoured ciders, which have other fruits or fruit juices added.

The inaugural year of the competition attracted 12 entries in the “common” cider category; the specialty/flavoured category was not yet offered.

First prize went to West Avenue Cider of Caledon, with Bonnieheath Winery of Waterford coming in second and The County Cider Company of Picton picking up third place.

For more information about the cider competitions, visit www.ofvc.ca. Additional information about craft cider, including the craft cider makers, is available at the Ontario Craft Cider Association at http://ontariocraftcider.com/.