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Tilted Shed Ciderworks

Sonoma Wine Country Fans pay heed, here’s a tip for adventurous wine tasters: If you haven’t discovered craft cider, Tilted Shed’s new tasting room is the place to start.

If the Lost Orchard wasn’t exactly an angry orchard, it sure was forlorn when Ellen Cavalli and Scott Heath found it in 2011. Acting on a tip, the couple made a rare and precious discovery: an abandoned, overgrown trove of mature cider apple trees in the middle of Russian River Valley Wine Country.

Tears of the Lost Orchard
Tilted Shed is a kind of hobby gone wild. Cavalli and Heath, both Bay Area natives, became hooked on cider while bouncing around between city life in New York and rural ambitions in New Mexico. Their first batch of homemade cider was a lark that sparked an obsession. They moved to Sebastopol for the apples.

Apples were once big business in Sonoma County. The popular Gravenstein variety, first planted by the Russian settlement at Fort Ross, is a sweet apple well suited for processing, but not for shipping to faraway fresh produce markets.

In contrast, cider varieties are not much good for either; like winegrapes, they have properties like high tannin and extreme sugar or acid that make them suitable only for fermenting into an alcoholic beverage.

That’s why the Lost Orchard was such a lucky find, adding complexity to Tilted Shed’s ciders while their own, two-acre orchard grows.

Take a Sip
The tasting room, opened in late October, 2014, is a narrow annex to Tilted Shed’s no-nonsense, production warehouse space, located in a quiet, light industrial district south of downtown Windsor.

The decor is smart and spare, with the “shed” logo done in reclaimed wood behind a small, glass-topped bar displaying some of the domestic and European ciders that inspired these cider fanatics. Fresh from the 2014 harvest, photographs of various cultivars of cider apples hang on the walls for education as much as decoration.

Craft cider is real cider. It’s not that sweet, fizzy, apple juice with a kick that the big beer brands sell. While the market for these simple, fun alternatives to cheap beer has exploded in recent years, craft cider is only a tiny fraction of that.

This is cider that may challenge, it may entice, it may draw you in further. It might make you say, wow, what have I been missing? As for food pairings, “There are things that wine can’t do,” according Cavalli.

This is more like the cider that Americans used to slake their thirst with after a hard day’s raking hay, or that you may find in regions of France and Spain today.

Graviva! Semidry Cider is Tilted Shed’s flagship release, at 1,200 gallons. It’s a blend of heritage Gravenstein apples and cider varieties that’s creamy and effervescent, with aromas of sour candy and a hint of — appealing — cidery funk.

Just 100 gallons of Lost Orchard Dry Cider were made in 2013. Because of naturally higher alcohol levels of around 8 percent by volume, the law does not permit a vintage date on this cider. It’s worth it, according to Tilted Shed’s owners because, unlike large-volume productions, their product actually is crushed just once a year, like wine, and is not diluted.

Made with a portion of smoked apples, the slightly effervescent January Barbecue Smoked Cider reminds me of a sweater I’ve worn to a beach cookout the night before. It’s a rich cider with woody notes, apricot and spice.

Geek Out
The first in a series of “cider salons,” Cider Appreciation 101 was recently hosted by Ellen Cavalli and Tom Wark, a noted wine blogger who’s turned his attention to the world of fine cider in The Cider Journal.

Topics included the history of cider, cider regions, and organoleptic terms for evaluating cider’s unique aromatics and palate profiles. It was a fun couple of hours; check in with Tilted Shed for future seminars.

Hit the Road
Or just cross the road: Follow up your cider with a pint at St. Florian’s Brewery, across the street on Bell Road. Right next door, Sonoma Brothers Distilling and Colagrossi Wines are also opening tasting rooms. Up the road, downtown Windsor has restaurants, shops, and hotels.

7761 Bell Road, Windsor, Calif. Open by appointment only. 707-657-7796.

Find more info about things to do, restaurants and hotels in Sonoma County.

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