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Cover Story

New grafts for an old craft

Traditional cider-making enjoys revival as apple growers look for ways to diversify. By Judie Steeves


he making of cider dates back to Medieval times, but in recent years, there has been a revival of interest in this traditional beverage made from

apples. These days, it is increasingly trendy for both sexes to

enjoy a sparkling hard cider, and it’s an alternative use for imperfect fruit—notable where orchardists are struggling to make ends meet. Craft cideries have sprung up in the Eastern U.S. and in

Europe, where demand is strong. As a result, some enterprising Okanagan orchardists

have done their research and are embarking on diversification of their operations to include either cider apples on contract to a cidery, or the larger project of starting a cidery themselves. Sparkling cider is not a new product to B.C., but the

return to traditional craft-made ciders is recent. That’s the route that long-time orchardists Dave and

Melissa Dobernigg of Vernon are taking to diversify their 30-acre apple orchard, with plans to produce their first commercial artisan apple cider in 2014. They began the adventure as an alternative to ripping


Melissa Dobernigg with one of several cider apple varieties grafted to unprofitable Golden Delicious.

out a couple of acres of Golden Delicious that were making them no money. They are on M4 rootstocks, so are ideal for cider apple varieties. The first step was to take the chainsaw this spring to the

upper part of each tree and graft them over to nine varieties of cider apples, mostly bittersweets and bittersharps, which they then plan to blend with the regular dessert apples they grow, including Spartans, Macs, Honeycrisp, Gala and Ambrosia. In total, 300 trees were grafted over with the help of Nick

Ibuki, research technician from the Okanagan Plant Improvement Company (PICO), where they purchased the certified budwood. Grafts included such traditional cider apples as

Yarlington Mill, Dabinette, Porters Perfection, Kingston Black, Golden Russet, Michelin, Bulmers Norman and Hyslop and Manchurian. The latter two are crabapples. The Doberniggs have a farming and entrepreneurial

background. Melissa grew up on a grain farm in Saskatchewan and has a degree in business and marketing as well as a diploma in web design, but she admits quite

frankly, “I’m much happier driving a tractor on the farm.” The couple have three little girls and Melissa would

ultimately like to be able to work full-time on the farm with Dave. He is third generation on this farm, and his dad is still

involved, as are two brothers, to some extent. It started off as a 10-acre orchard his grandparents

bought in the 1940s, and his father expanded it in the 60s and 80s. Like many other growers in recent years, the couple have

been frustrated by low returns, and needed an income stream for fruit that wasn’t top quality, so couldn’t be shipped to the packinghouse. They cast about for options, and realized there is a revival

of interest in traditional, hard apple cider products from craft cideries, so they began taking courses from experts such as Peter Mitchell in Washington State, where they are returning this winter to take more advanced courses. The Okanagan is ideal for craft cider-making because it is a natural companion to the wine industry, which attracts

British Columbia FRUIT GROWER • Winter 2012-13 7

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