An interview with New Mexico Wine, Black Mesa Winery/Bite Me Hard Cider, and Santa Fe Cider Works
Photo by Brent Hofacker
New Mexico has a long tradition of growing apples and making cider. From Farmington to Roswell, from Silver City to Cimarron, from Las Cruces to Valverde, apples have represented an important economic mainstay over the past century. In fact, during different decades, opposite corners of the state gained the moniker of the “Land of the Big Red Apple.” Today, several new cideries are building on this apple-growing tradition to meet the growing demand for locally produced, craft cider. We spoke to three of them—New Mexico Wine, Santa Fe Cider Works, and Black Mesa Winery/Bite Me Hard Cider—to learn more about the current state of cider in New Mexico.
What makes New Mexico cider unique?
New Mexico Wine: New Mexico apples are grossly underrated for the quality that we grow here. My favorite part of living in New Mexico is the abundance of “free fruit” that one can find along the side streets and creek beds—not just apples, but apricots and cherries.
Santa Fe Cider Works: Nationally, cider sales really hit a high point in 2015; after that, regional markets came to the forefront and caused the national, mass-produced cider sales to dip a little. This holds true for New Mexico, as well. More local cider drinkers have chosen to support local cideries, opting to try a unique product instead of always falling back on the commercial, national brands. In New Mexico, we’ve really seen a lot of locals supporting the local market, which speaks volumes about the priorities of our regional communities.
Black Mesa Winery: Apples have been grown here in northern New Mexico for generations. The apples are picked and brought to Black Mesa Winery, where they are processed and fermented into cider. The cider produced from these trees show a complexity unlike any other. Many say it reminds them of European style cider, which has been made for more than two thousand years.
Do you work with orchards in New Mexico, and do you see a local apple-growing sector expanding with the cider industry in New Mexico?
New Mexico Wine: There are plenty of rural communities that planted orchards way back when, and they still produce lots of fruit today, especially in northern New Mexico. We hope to see a revival of interest in orchard fruit and apples not for just cider, but also for local beer, wine, and spirits.
Santa Fe Cider Works: Each year, we receive more phone calls and emails than we did the year before, offering use of apples from local orchards. Cider provides a unique opportunity for those varieties of apples that aren’t traditionally used for eating or baking. Because the cider industry is able to use bitter/tart apples, we hope this business opportunity will provide incentive for stewardship of more unusual apple trees, creating a diversified orchard, which, ultimately, means all the trees in the orchard are more disease-resistant. The more cider we drink, the more we can help our environment!
Black Mesa Winery: We are getting apples from orchards between Española and Taos. Some of the trees are more than sixty years old. We have started working with the growers who have watched large amounts of their apples ripen, fall off the tree, and not be used or sold for years and years. They are very excited about having a new, local market for the large variety of apples they grow. Some would like to grow more apples, but weren’t sure what to plant. When we suggest specific apple cider varieties, they say they are willing to give it a try.
Photo by Carole Topalian
Where do you hope to see the New Mexico cider industry in five years, and how will we get there?
New Mexico Wine: At New Mexico Wine, we feel that hard cider is an underdeveloped industry right now, but one that could show dramatic growth in the coming years. Wineries make cider, breweries make cider, and so there is little holding back the industry save increased production, awareness, and eventually distribution. There is great momentum and it supports both farmers and the craft beverage sector.
Santa Fe Cider Works: There are approximately eight hundred twenty cideries in America right now, which is double the number from even two years ago. As more New Mexicans continue to enjoy hard cider, we hope to see more local cideries opening. Right now, there are a lot of regional beer festivals that invite a token cidery to their event. In five years, New Mexico will have lots of regional cider festivals, but don’t worry, we’ll be sure to invite a token brewery to our events.
Black Mesa Winery: As the cider business continues to expand, especially the part using New Mexico apples, I see family orchards once again being a part of New Mexico’s agriculture economy. As it is tied with the growing wine and beer industries, I see all expanding and New Mexico becoming known and celebrated for its small businesses growing from local products.
Is there anything else you would like edible readers to know?
Black Mesa Winery: Our signature style is drawn from the New World cider tradition of low tannins and higher acidity. High-elevation fruit (5800-plus feet) provides the perfect juice. We incorporate both modern and traditional methods to produce this artisanal cider, even allowing some native microflora. When utilizing cultured yeasts, we use naturally selected and traditionally bred organic yeasts.
New Mexico Wine: We will be hosting The Magnificent Cider Festival at Eaves Movie Ranch on October 20. This old western revival festival is family friendly and will feature seven local cider producers, fresh apples, pumpkins, live music, and the perfect setting for cowboy boots, ten-gallon hats, and pearl button shirts. Tickets $25 at NMwine.com.
New Mexico Wine nmwine.com
Santa Fe Cider Works 4363 Center Place, Santa Fe,
Black Mesa Winery/Bite Me Hard Cider 1502 Highway 68, Velarde, 505-852-2820, blackmesawinery.com