Know Your Cidermaster: Stuart Madany, Castle Hill Cider
WE KNOW OF AT LEAST TWO THINGS that cider and architecture have in common: Both must start from the ground up. And both have Stuart Madany, who was already a local architect before becoming the cidermaster at Castle Hill Cider in 2009. Madany himself sees even more commonalities, so we asked him to explain and to give us a tour of the gorgeous grounds—and his signature ciders—in Keswick.
Edible Blue Ridge: So how did you make the leap from architect to crafting hard apple cider?
Stuart Madany: I was working with Rhett Architects doing restoration and landscaping work on the historic property here. The new owner, John Carr, was interested in us doing some feasibility studies for a vineyard. But another guy in our firm had recently purchased some apple trees, so we also looked into the possibilities for an orchard. Apple expert Tom Burford told us the long history of the Albemarle Pippin on this property and declared that making cider would be the best possible thing to do here. I call Tom the “Seducer.” While we were putting in the orchard, Mr. Carr said, “Well, we need somebody to run this.” I was getting more fascinated with making cider, so decided to really get my hands dirty.
EBR: What exactly is the history of the Pippin here?
Madany: The Colonial-era owner of Castle Hill, Thomas Walker, was related by marriage to George Washington, who gave him some cuttings of the Newtown Pippin apple tree from New York. So the Pippin was first planted in Albemarle County at Castle Hill, and eventually became known as the Albemarle Pippin around here.
EBR: Is that why you use Pippins in so many of your cider styles?
Madany: There are three reasons—the historical connection, it’s a great cider apple, and when we started I could get enough Pippins to do what I wanted to do.
EBR: Is there any overlap between being an architect and a cidermaster?
Madany: I do see a similarity, at least in the way I do it. In both jobs, I’m trying to achieve an artistic vision, and to get there I deal with a lot of smaller tasks and legal issues.
EBR: One of the bigger tasks is establishing an orchard at Castle Hill. What’s the status of that?
Madany: We have about 550 trees, producing 26 varieties. And we have 2,100 more trees getting grafted on a high-density system, so hopefully that will bear fruit faster. Our goal is 7,000 trees, which would meet almost all of our own needs for making cider. And although we’re not certified yet, we’re growing organically. That presents some challenges because even though this is historically a famous apple region, it’s not particularly easy to grow apples here. For instance, fire blight, a bacterial infection, is the bane of my existence right now. Still, we think that some consumers will care about the organic distinction. I actually think organic apples will have more flavor.
Madany: Organic apples have a deeper interaction with microbes. I’m constantly considering the harmony of the microorganisms in the fruit and the human body. When it comes down to it, I see myself as a microorganism rancher.
EBR: Does working in the orchard help you as a cidermaker?
Madany: I think so. Learning to make cider is easier than learning how to grow the apples.
EBR: Of the seven cider styles you make, Levity, the one that ferments underground in huge clay pots, seizes the most attention. What’s the story behind that process?
Madany: The pots, known as kvevri, have been used for making wine in the country of Georgia for 8,000 years, but there is no known record of people making cider in them. We imported four 300-gallon pots and four 50-gallon pots and buried them at Castle Hill. We actually go inside the four big kvevries and paint the interiors with beeswax before we fill them with Pippin juice. It’s a constant 42 or 43 degrees down there, so it’s a slow fermentation, about six weeks. We made our very first batch of cider this way—I had one semi-translated page of instructions. That’s why we made it a single varietal, thinking a blend would be too risky. So it doesn’t offer a huge complexity, but the pots lend a bit more minerality, and it does have a subtle complexity that I think comes from the wild and cultured microorganisms in there. And there’s a hint of honey that might come from the beeswax.
EBR: What’s your personal favorite right now?
Madany: Black Twig is nice for this time of year. This is the only style we age in old whiskey barrels. The bourbon note is subtle, but the cider picks up vanilla and caramel from the barrel char. Plus, it’s high in alcohol, so it’s great on a chilly day.
For more info go to castlehillcider.com, or attend Cider Fest at Castle Hill on November 23, part of Cider Week Virginia.