June Gloom: A Cider-Maker’s Struggle

If you live in Southern California, June Gloom means the time of year when clouds roll in and it gets overcast, cool, and gloomy. It’s most common in June but can start earlier or last later into summer. For me as a cider maker, this sentiment covers the summer months beginning in June and running through August. It’s the time when most of my ciders are racked, bottled, and maybe even drunk from the previous season. Sure there is always work around the orchard but, if you don’t have many trees or just pick and process apples, June, July and August (for the Northern Hemisphere cider makers) are the hardest months. Maybe I should say the easiest months but in some ways, that makes them the hardest. No early morning packing the truck or van for a day of apple picking. No checking to make sure you didn’t leave the totes in the garage and have to turn around and go back to get them. No long days of processing apples into juice or racking fermenters or storage containers. And, definitely no bottling or packaging of hard cider for future enjoyment. The summer months can be a cider-maker’s “June Gloom”.

Cloudy Mountains - Gloom
Cloudy Mountains – Gloom

Maybe it’s just me or it has something to do with the last couple years but, as June turns into July, I often find myself yearning to head to the orchard and pick apples. Yes, it can be hot and maybe I will get a few mosquito bites. Yes, I know I will be spending all day Saturday or Sunday in couple weeks processing all these apples. However, the fresh air, the sunshine, the beautiful scenery, and the taste of ripe fruit plucked from the tree always makes for a wonderful day. That’s because I am also doing this with my wife and even some friends.

Yes, I could go to the store and buy some organic juice to ferment. I mean that is how I started. Make a gallon batch, rack it, age it, bottle it, and start again. Yet once you start pressing apples, especially if you start picking your own apples, you will find it hard to go back to buying juice again. I warn you. If you are enjoying making cider from store bought juice, don’t start picking and pressing your own apples unless you are ready for the “transformation”. Once you start heading out to the orchard and picking apples and then processing those into juice and fermenting it into hard cider, you become a cider and apple geek. You will yearn for the fall days when apples are ripe and waiting to be picked. You will start to see those apple growing and yearn for them to get ripe. You will start having June Gloom.

Early Growing Apples
Early Growing Apples

Okay, maybe I am starting to show my age. I remember the love of May and June as a kid because it meant school was out. I got up early so I could enjoy every second of the warm summer days. I ran carefree through the days of summer, often with reckless abandon, and without thinking beyond the moment. Summer days were like gold and I spent them freely and without much thought beyond knowing that I didn’t have to come inside until it was dark or maybe a little later if I pushed it. Now, the days of summer have become my June Gloom. It is the days of fall that are my gold. Knowing I will be walking among the trees picking apples under a blue sky and often on a mountain side or prairie that has views that don’t seem to end. I definitely don’t spend these days as carefree or reckless as the summer days of my childhood. I try to hold on to them as dearly as possible. The nice bonus is that I also know that once winter arrives, I will start to have my first tastes of my wonderful craft hard ciders. They will remind me of those blue skies and wide vistas. They will also let me start sharing my new creations with family and friends. Creating even more wonderful memories.

AZ Orchard: Dwarf trees tucked into a mountain canyon.
AZ Orchard: Dwarf trees tucked into a mountain canyon.

Personally, I am finding this year to be even more challenging because the cider trees that I planted three years ago have five apples on them. These will be the first named cider apples, Harrison and Hewe’s Crab, that I will have ever picked or used in my cider. My Red Rootstock and Super Yellow are definitely good cider apples but they aren’t named apples. Yes, Arkansas Black, Northern Spy, GoldRush, Roxbury Russet, and other apples can make good cider. But, they aren’t what you would call “cider” apples. Nobody talks about using Harrison apples for pie or sauce. They are grown for cider and I planted them for cider. Okay, it’s 5 apples, if they all make it. However, to be able to just hold one true cider apple in my hand, especially one I planted, will be special. It will also be fun to assess these apples and to document the specific gravity, pH, acid, and tannins. I thought that I was excited to leave the house last year after lockdowns and such. I knowing that I will be able to pick my first cider apples as well as trial non-Saccharomyces yeast strains, the apples can’t ripen fast enough. This June Gloom will pass! It will give way to a Fabulous Fall and all the cider making fun that comes with it. Am I a cider geek? Am I an apple geek?

Let’s just say that I can’t wait for fall!

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