Hard cider orchards: Virginia’s other wine country

WASHINGTON – Chances are, you’ve heard it all before: The D.C. area is accumulating an impressive list of craft breweries, and vineyards in Virginia and Maryland are producing some notable wines.

But there’s another beverage that’s filling locals’ glasses and the need for a homegrown, seasonal taste — and it’s got a crisp, hard edge.

In the late ’90s Diane Flynt, owner and cider maker at Foggy Ridge Cider, acted on her dream to turn her farm, nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains in Southwest Virginia, into a cider orchard.

She planted her first heirloom apples in 1997, acquired an Alcoholic Beverage Control license in 2004 and started selling artisan cider in 2005. Now, Foggy Ridge Cider makes six different cider varieties from 30 different types of apples grown in Flynt’s three orchards.

What fulfilled a dream for Flynt, also satisfied a demand for beverage fans.

“Cider is the fastest-growing segment in the alcohol industry right now. The category grew over 60 percent last year,” Flynt says.

There are a lot of similarities between making cider and making wine — a process that begins in the fields. Flynt explains that great wine is derived from great grapes, and the same is true for hard cider.

“If you want to make a really wonderful artisan hard cider, you need to start with excellent fruit,” says Flynt, who began the Foggy Ridge orchard by grafting her own apples.

But apple-picker fans beware: Flynt says the apples used to make hard cider do not taste like the apples available at farmers’ markets and grocery stores.

“Cider apples are more acidic. They need to have some tannin. And many of the varieties at Foggy Ridge