In every major apple-growing region in the United States, there is an exponential expansion of commercial hard cider production. One source lists more than 100 licensed commercial cideries (wineries that specialize in hard cider production) across the country. The majority of these businesses are less than 10 years old, showing the growing popularity of hard cider among consumers. Virginia has at least seven licensed commercial cideries, and several more are slated to open in the next few years. Additionally, individuals who are interested in starting or expanding their orchard, winery, or cidery business are increasingly approaching Virginia Tech, Virginia Cooperative Extension, and Virginia Department of Consumer Services personnel for technical support on growing hard cider apples and making hard cider. Possessing many parallels to the Virginia wine industry, hard cider production can positively impact rural economies by creating a new value-added agricultural opportunity, which promotes tourism, land preservation and Virginia's apple industry.
Similar to wine, there is a large range of hard cider styles available in the marketplace. On the one end of the spectrum are ciders that have high-sugar content and may be made from a mix of fresh apple juice, apple juice concentrate, and/or water. On the other end of the spectrum are ciders that are dry to semi-dry (meaning that there is no or very little residual or added sugar in the final product) fermented from 100 percent apple juice. These ciders are often made from hard cider apple varieties or a blend of apple varieties, which provides a complex flavor profile. Hard cider apple varieties are unique in their chemical composition, having high acid and/or high tannin content. They also have unique names, such as Hewes Crab, Black Twig, and Sheepnose. Many hard cider producers believe that these specialized varieties are essential to the quality and marketability of their products. Hard cider may also be made from varieties commercially grown in Virginia, such as Winesap or Stayman.
In 2011, a Specialty Crop Block Grant from VDACS was awarded to the Nelson County Economic Development Office to fund economic feasibility studies of hard cider orchards and cideries. The outcomes from this grant were intended to help overcome the limited availability of hard cider apples in Virginia by producing a better understanding of the market for and economics of hard cider and hard cider apples. Ultimately, the goal is to help new and expanding cideries develop successful business plans and increase the production of hard cider within the commonwealth.
As part of this project, we conducted surveys of the existing hard cideries in Virginia, as well as surveying existing apple growers' interest in growing apples for the cideries. Below are two presentations that summarize these surveys:
Study 1: Hard cider orchard economic feasibility studies by Jarrad Farris, Greg Peck, and Gordon Groover, Virginia Tech.
A partial budget for growing dual-purpose apples (defined as an apple cultivar that potentially has multiple market destinations, e.g. hard cider, fresh market, or processing) and an enterprise budget for planting and growing hard cider apples were developed to help growers outline the major revenues, expenses, and risk associated with producing these apple cultivars for sale to cideries. Both of these decision aids are available as Microsoft Excel® workbooks with a built-in user’s manual. To learn more, please read the extension publication that we wrote:
Study 2: Feasibility Study for a Small Farm Cidery in Nelson County, VA (pdf) by Matson Consulting (in coordination with Virginia FAIRS), This study reviews the economic and technical possibilities of a small farm-based cidery business venture.
Events, conferences, and workshops
Books and articles
Feasibility Study for a Small-Scale Hard Cidery
Assessing the Economic Feasibility of Growing Specialized Apple Cultivars for Sale to Commercial Hard Cider Producers
Want to learn more? Check out this introduction to hard cider in the U.S.