Harvest volumes are down by about 50% compared to the previous year as a result of spring frosts and hail in the heart of Swedish apple country. This in turn prevented a normal fruit set in many locations.
For Brännland Cider, being entirely harvest based (this might be stating the obvious but bears repeating in a, mildly put, definition fluid segment of the business) this will, as it must, mean changes both to the amount of cider produced but also to its make-up.
In the past seven vintages we’ve worked with a variety of expressions. They were shaped by lack of knowledge, knowledge gained, lack of experience and experience gained. We of course like to think that the process has shaped a very specific expression, a specific style.
Faced with the fact that we can only work with about half of the fruit usually available to us that idea is challenged.
We can of course interpret this as nothing more than a negative fluke, a random occurrence that will only be a problem in a bad year (as pertains to harvest volumes), and that “our” style as it’s shaped itself will be “restored” when harvest volumes are, hopefully, back up in 2020. But is it really?
Forward leaps for us have often been fueled and driven by unnegotiable external forces and so the lack of apples forces us to take a hard look at what we do and what we are about on a core level. What then is at the heart of our ice cider?
The measure of any winemaker is what she or he does when things are difficult, not what to do when the year has been exceptionally abundant. In this case austerity must be allowed to be the driver. If we are to make one choice in relation to style only, forced by what we have, not what we would like to have, what would that choice be?
And so, what we thought was our expression might not be. How could it be if it can’t be expressed in a less than ideal year? Any notion of quality and style has to rely on a baseline and be weary of shifting baseline syndrome. The baseline needs to be operational and steady in every vintage and be viable for years, generations. The idea of the thing needs to hold its ground regardless.
As winemakers we often speak casually about how we’re not in charge; that the vineyard or orchard is, that the weather is, that the fruit is, that the fermentation is. It is a romanticism we surround ourselves with. It builds an image of mystique and of being at one with the land and the medium. But do we really believe the things that we, on a regular basis, state, about being stewards rather than “makers”?
In a year like this that gets put to the test in a serious way. Any romanticism or self delusion one might harbor gets thrown out the window when forced to contemplate the facts.
The cost of one liter of cider produced is based on the cost of the raw materials, fruit, labour and investment involved to create it. There is a delicate balance between cost and margin that, in a small business like ours, quickly lists to one side or the other depending on the output. Our cost of labor does not change because there are less apples and therefore less juice. Thus the cost of cider produced in a low volume year will inevitably be higher than in a high volume one.
The market is seldom fluid in the same sense. It doesn’t bend and stretch year on year in accordance with the needs of producers (with some exceptions but they are so few and far between that for most of us, both producers and consumers, they simply don’t count). A wine producer, maker, grower takes the brunt of the blows dealt by weather or circumstances every time.
However, the amount of fruit we have to work with is only one factor. In return, the harvest has given us exceptional quality with great balance and integrity in the apples.
And so the 2019 harvest closes one door to open another. The vintage presents us with a wonderful challenge. As a result we know that our ice cider will change to its core and that this change will take us further yet again. Luckily we’ve gained some of the experience needed to turn it into a vehicle. We simply have no choice but to trust the fruit and what it gives us (there you go with that romanticism again). Whether that is abundance or austerity.
And, if we can steward it right, it might be the stuff of legend. Something that we regale our grandchildren with for the umpteenth time as, after retirement, we keep back seat driving each vintage from the comfort of the rocking chair on the porch. They will be frustrated and will only half listen but will accept the repetition out of tolerance and love knowing that 2019 was the vintage that changed everything.
/Andreas Sundgren Graniti, Brännland Cider