Day Trip: Ellen Cavalli and Scott Heath of Tilted Shed Ciderworks - Imbibe Magazine Subscribe + Save

Day Trip: Ellen Cavalli and Scott Heath of Tilted Shed Ciderworks

Since 2011, Ellen Cavalli and Scott Heath have produced Sonoma County–made vintage cider as the wife-and-husband team behind Tilted Shed Ciderworks, the county’s second-oldest cidery. Growing and sourcing organic heirloom and cider apples while following the mottos “low and slow” and “cool sh*t in small batches,” Cavalli and Heath—a longtime book and magazine editor and a former printmaker, respectively—are behind some of today’s most inventive and delicious ciders. Here’s a peek into this year’s estate harvest from their home-orchard in Sebastopol.

6:50 a.m. Today, we wake up early. Fun day of estate pressing ahead—the 2020 vintage of our Farm Reserve is underway! We generally press 20 to 25 tons of apples per harvest, about 3,000 to 3,500 gallons. We do canned and bottled ciders, pommeau, and some apple-grape co-ferments. Depending on the harvest, we make at least 15 different ciders and fruit wines each year.

Get dressed, and feed whichever of our five farm cats have shown up so far, plus our dog Macy. Head outside, coffee in hand, to let out our chickens, and take a quick count of how many apples we’ve picked so far from our two-acre home orchard of 100-plus varieties. Looks like about 25 varieties!

8:30 a.m. Answer some emails and calls. We scan our orchard to see what’s left on the trees that’s ripe and ready to press. There are two ways to definitively tell if an apple is ripe, especially for tannic apples that are hard to judge from taste alone. First, cut the apple in half and look at the seeds: ripe apples will have dark brown seeds. Second, cut an apple and apply iodine solution to the flesh. If the flesh turns purple, the apple isn’t ripe yet. If the flesh is mostly unchanged, it’s ripe. Iodine binds to starch, and a ripe apple has very little starch because it’s been transformed into sugar. Within the hour we have another dozen varieties to add to our estate pressing—not bad for our fifth harvest.

10:30 a.m. We meticulously divide the apples by variety, weigh, then take samples of each to record Brix and pH. At our cidery—a 15-min- ute drive from home—we have a large commercial grinder and press setup for big runs of apples. But here at home, we do it old-school, with a plastic tub and milk crates for washing apples, hand-built sorting table, small grinder, and a DIY rack-and-cloth press (hand-me-down from our friend Reverend Nat in Portland, Oregon). We want this to be as estate as possible, which means pressing here on our farm. We take our stations: Ellen washing and grinding the apples, Scott pressing, the amber juice pouring into 5-gallon buckets. James Brown’s “Funky Drummer” plays on our Pandora station. “Bring on the juice!” We laugh. It must be a blessing from the Godfather of Soul!

2:30 p.m. Pressing is done. We shovel some of the spent dry apple pomace into the sheep pen, which our three rotund babydoll sheep devour. We spread the rest in the pasture, where sometime next year, we’ll find tiny sprouts germinating, apple seedlings that—if they can escape the gophers—will grow into completely new and hopefully cool cider apples!

5 p.m. Scott drives the pickup truck, its flatbed laden with juice, to the cidery, and pours the juice into a neutral French oak barrel where it will ferment for about nine months before being bottled and laid to rest en tirage for another year. He checks on other fermentations, measuring the sugar level (gravity) of the ciders as they ferment, and even smelling the aromas of each batch for any early warning signs of things going sideways. All good today!

8:30 p.m. We pop open a 2018 Farm Reserve méthode traditionnelle and talk about our plans for tomorrow: We need to check out the Lost Orchard, a feral, abandoned orchard planted in 1987, which we’ve worked to revive. There were some Kingston Black and Porter’s Perfection that weren’t ripe earlier this month during first harvest, and those will need collecting before the upcoming heat wave. Mother Nature is always in charge; we simply heed her beck and call.

Enjoy This Article?

Sign up for our newsletter and get biweekly recipes and articles delivered to your inbox.

Send this to a friend