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Cider rising


July 2013

Bob Purman couldnít get the crisp, clean taste of hard, French cider out of his mind after he and his wife, Yannique, visited France. In fact, it was a series of French vacations that led these two Milwaukeeans to start their Door County cider orchard and tasting room.

Word of mouth is spreading, and their business, Island Orchard Cider, is expected to sell about 6,000 gallons of cider this year, which is up from 3,400 last year and from 1,500 the first year. Both years, they sold out of production, and they expect to sell out this year, too.

"We just started by making batches of cider for ourselves about 12 years ago," Bob Purman explains. "We kept experimenting and tweaking the recipe, and our hobby grew into a business. Thereís nothing quite like French cider here in the United States. It isnít really imported here because it doesnít handle transportation as well as wine does," he says.

Dry French cider, which has an alcohol content of 7 percent, isnít like the sweeter alcoholic ciders produced or imported by beer giants. Instead of being hit by sugary sweetness and big bubbles, Island Orchard cider is more refined, like a dry Sancerre wine perhaps. Its apple aromas are gently sweet, not cloying, with complex and almost floral aromas. It refreshes the palette with more delicate bubbles, and it boasts a clean, dry finish.

"We first tasted the cider when we were visiting my father in Brittany," Yannique Purman says. "We call our cider Normandy cider because Normandy cider is more famous for cider than Brittany. Brittany is like the less famous cousin of Normandy."

After their initial trips to France, they also began visiting cider houses across Normandy and Brittany, and they continued to develop their own recipes. They purchased a farm on Washington Island in 2004. The farm, which was growing wheat for beer, now boasts more than 1,600 apple trees (30 different kinds of apples) and 500 pear trees (eight different kinds of pears). "We bought the farm to preserve the acres as farmland, and the first year, we started with just a couple hundred root stock trees," Bob Purman says. "The cultivars are all from France and England, and theyíre bitter-sharp and sharp. These apples have much higher tannins than a dessert fruit, and these apples are specifically for making hard cider."

The apples, which are more gnarly and less attractive than eating apples, are harvested in September, and they try to get the juice into tanks for aging in October, then move them into storage by mid-November. "It takes about five weeks to ferment the juice," Bob Purman says. The cider is bottled in mid-March, and some of the cider gets aged in oak barrels.

The Purmans open their Ellison Bay tasting room in March, and they keep it open through December. Right now, they sell apple cider, a pear cider, an apple-cherry cider and an oak-aged apple cider. Purman is also developing a fortified cider, sort of like an apple cider version of a sherry. That cider, called royal cider, is aged in oak. "Itís got a lot of vanilla aromas," he says. "The Quebec cider makers make a dessert iced cider thatís similar to an iced wine, but though itís quite delicious, itís way too sweet for my palate. I love the complexity of sherries, and I found this old recipe from New England, so thatís how I developed this."

What: Island Orchard ciders

About: Made in the French Normandy tradition, the cider has 7 percent alcohol by volume and is less sweet than other ciders

Price Point: $15 or less

Where to Find It: Rayís Wine and Liquors in Wauwatosa, Larryís Market in Brown Deer, Downer Wine and Spirits in Milwaukee and Ottoís in Fox Point

Web Info:


This story ran in the July 2013 issue of: