Farmer & Producer Profiles
At Wandering Aengus Ciderworks Nick Gun and Mimi Casteel are helping to recreate an American artisan cider tradition.
Before prohibition, hard cider was the most widely consumed beverage in the United States. Cider production on the family farm provided a simple way to preserve the fall apple crop and supply an inexpensive and, due to poor water quality, safe drink. These attributes and the efforts of individuals like the legendary Johnny Appleseed, helped to establish cider as a tradition of both American agriculture and society.
This all changed when cider became the favorite target of the prohibition movement. After prohibition, little remained of either cider craftsmanship or the orchards of distinct cider varietals. Changes in demographics, technology, and economics conspired to make beer the beverage of choice soon after prohibition was repealed.
However, in recent decades American cider has experienced a renaissance. Desire for a complex beverage that is lighter than craft beer and more refreshing than wine has created the perfect niche for high quality artisan ciders. Quality ciders have the clean fresh appeal of a microbrew with the complexity and tradition of fine wine.
When it comes to making the highest quality artisan hard ciders, it all starts in the orchard. With cider, you have only one ingredient to work with, so you want your raw materials to be of the highest quality. Our ability to make great cider depends entirely on our ability to get quality fruit, so before we even built our cider house, we planted apple trees.
In the winter of 2004 we started our orchard in the picturesque Eola hills Northwest of Salem, Oregon. Today we have almost 1800 trees on just over four acres. We planted heirloom cider apples, difficult varieties that you can’t find in grocery stores, including Golden Russet, Hudson Golden Gem, Newtown Pippin, Muscadet d’ Dieppe, Muscadet d’ Bernay, Harry Master’s Jersey, Dabinette, Roxbury Russett, Wickson Crab and Whitney Crab. These apples can’t be stored for a year, they aren’t pretty, and they don’t even necessarily taste that good on their own, but they make delicious distinctive cider if you treat them right.
In 2004, an apprenticeship under cidermaker Dr. Roger Mansfield, let Nick take his small batch cider experience to a commercial scale. The first Wandering Aengus ciders were released in 2005.
Wandering Aengus is committed to being a sustainable business; from using biodegradable tasting cups to composting everything we can. We farm organically and we work with organic growers to supplement our apple supply. In our own orchard, in addition to farming organically, Mimi has started building biodynamic compost, and we use some biodynamic preparations in our orchard. We are always trying to learn from our little piece of land, and we feel that this kind of farming produces the best fruit. And as apples are our only input, we think it shows in the final product.
"With cider, you have only one ingredient to work with, so you want your raw materials to be of the highest quality."
-Nick Gun, Wandering Aegnus Ciderworks