Windfall Cider Fest

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Windfall Cider Fest

Mary Park, Scene Editor

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Sweet, fruity, dry, tart, hoppy, herbal: whether you’re a beer drinker or a wine drinker, there’s a cider for everyone.

On Oct. 6, locals and visitors from all over Washington and other neighboring states like Oregon, Montana and Idaho gathered for the Windfall Cider Fest, united by their love for local craft cider and live music.

At the Western Village in the Ellensburg Rodeo Arena, there was vibrant Bluegrass and American roots music to make your head bob, fairy lights and heat lamps to keep you warm and glasses of effervescent drinks to keep you refreshed.

The event hosted by Kittitas Environmental Education Network (KEEN) had people stay long after dark.

Attendees were given a tasting glass and six tickets for trying six different ciders and perries offered from a dozen new and returning cider houses, as well as wine from Ellensburg Canyon Winery and craft beer from Iron Horse Brewery. Additional tickets were available for purchase if attendees wanted to try more than six flavors.

Union Hill Cider Co.

Union Hill Cider Co., from East Wenatchee, introduced two ciders ranging from semi-dry to off-dry.

Andrew Handley and his wife, Katja Handley said they were already growing dessert fruit like Honeycrisp, Fuji and Pink Lady apples. They started out with an interest in cider five years ago that grew into a passion after learning more about it through a cidery called Snowdrift Cider Co. and started experimenting.

“Our little tagline is we’re a union of friends, family and orchardists, so my husband is a third-generation orchardist,” Katja Handley said. “We’re really trying to educate on cider varietals. “

Their pinkheart cider, made up of dabinett, red fleshed and cripps pink apples is a medium-bodied, semidry cider with sharp tart notes of raspberry and rhubarb.

“We learned that you have to use the right apples to make cider that has interesting characteristics and has tannins and has complex flavors,” Handley said. “So we started last year making cider and playing with those apple varieties and making cider that we enjoy and hopefully everybody else enjoys.”

Locals enjoy sips of cider, music and company

Dave Camarata is an Ellensburg local who said he and his wife were invited to the event by friends.

“This is my first time here, I’m more of a wine drinker,” Camarata said. “I wanted to give cider, the different varieties a try.” 

His favorite was the spice apple pie, a sweet dessert cider with unique notes of cinnamon and nutmeg.

The Camaratas and their friends sat at a picnic table, talking to each other while listening to the live band.

“We’re enjoying the company, the music, the fall weather,” Alena Camarata said. “It’s a nice community event supporting a cause.” 

She said they’d enjoyed the Golden Delicious and the Pineapple Mango ciders.

Rose Amrhein and Courtney Aucoin, two CWU graduate students, sat at a bench, both holding Wheel Line Cider’s bourbon barrel-aged apple wine, of which they said they can taste the bourbon but also the classic apple cider.

“It’s a really good fall event,” said Amrhein. “Like your backyard event.”

Aucoin agreed and said, “It has a good vibe of Western small-town feel, it’s representative of Ellensburg.”

Snowdrift Cider Co.

Snowdrift Cider Co., a family-owned hard cider maker from Eastern Wenatchee, had two ciders called red cider and cliffreaks blend.

Cameron Folden is an assistant cider maker at Snowdrift who came to the event last year as well.

He said that at Snowdrift, their mission is to use apples with intent and with purpose, the tannin and polyphenol in the different varieties and bring out the rich characteristics out in the cider.

“For us,” Folden said. “It’s all about expressing the different types of varieties and types of apples that we have.”

The red cider is made from red-fleshed apples that are “two generations removed from the wild apples of Kazakhstan,” has a bright rosy color and tastes tarty, packed with different fruits.

“This one’s more fruit-forward,” Folden said. “You can taste the strawberry, rhubarb, watermelon and that’s all coming from the apple itself.”

Jayde Kettner, an Ellensburg local and recent CWU graduate, took a sip of the “Cliffbreaks Blend.”

“I like it,” Kettner said. “It’s not too sweet, not too bitter.”

For Folden, helping people navigate the different types of cider is what he enjoys most about being in the cider business.

“I mean I love making it and selling it,” Folden said. “But educating people on what it is, it’s really unique. People know about wineries because wine did a good job of educating people.”

Washington Gold Cider

Oscar Ocampo, a salesperson for Washington Gold and Cider, introduced three ciders made from apples grown in Lake Chelan, Washington: spiced apple pie, northwest raspberry and golden delicious.

A man in a Busch beer cap took a sip of the spiced apple pie and said, “I almost want to warm it up. I want this for Thanksgiving dinner.”

A woman next to him added, “It’s your grandma’s apple pie in a cup.”

According to their info sheet, the golden delicious and Northwest raspberry won many awards from various cider and beer festivals. At the San Diego International Beer Festival in 2017, golden delicious took silver.

“The golden delicious goes down like apple juice with carbonation, it has some sweetness to it but it’s not overly sweet,” Ocampo said. “The Northwest raspberry has an apple base and then we add the raspberries from Lynden, Washington to it so that it balances that one out, kind of has a raspberry jam characteristic to it.”

Ocampo also helps to run the cider house in Lake Chelan, which opened about three weeks ago.

“It an outdoor venue, so you can actually enjoy the view of Lake Chelan,” Ocampo said. “Bring your family, your dog, we have a cheese shop and a barbeque right next door so it’s like the perfect location.”

Windfall to raise funds for KEEN

Sarah Maes, Windfall chair and a member at KEEN board of directors, said this year was the third time they held the event.

“The first year, we just did a small test,” Maes said. “We just had one room, three cider houses and one band and it was a really nice party, just to see if there’s interest in starting something like this and we had a really good turnout, so we decided to grow it last year.”

Maes said the name “Windfall” has different meanings behind it other than wind blowing fruit off trees.

“Windfall also is a term for an unexpected benefit, like a surprise bonus of some kind,” Maes said. “And there’s a category of cider that’s called windfall cider. If you’re thinking of wine, it would be like late harvest wine, with extra ripe fruit at the end of the season, more scrumpy cider, so the fruit is really ripe and it’s a lot sweeter.

Maes said she came up with the idea of cider fest as she visited different brew fests and wine tasting events.

“Cider started growing on me,” Maes said. “I like that there’s sweet cider, there’s fruity-flavored cider, margarita cider and all the way to dry, bitter, herbs and hops even. And I thought, how come nobody’s doing a cider fest, I want to go to a cider fest where I can go to a place and try twenty different ciders in a day.”

The funds raised from Windfall will go toward KEEN’s long-term goal of building an interpretive center at Helen McCabe State Park that can be used for multifunction purposes, as a museum, indoor and outdoor classroom and event space.

“It’s really important for people to learn about this area,” Maes said. “I mean, the Yakima River Canyon, is a unique place in the world, it has endangered wildlife, a rare ecosystem. So ultimately, the money raised from this event will go to helping to educate people that are driving down there and stopping and all the fly fishermen, all the people that float in the river, the hikers.”