Cider Taking Root

Cider Taking Root (Photo by Shawn Linehan)
A new research orchard of cider apples at NWREC

Oregon’s cider industry is growing rapidly. Currently, the Pacific Northwest is home to one quarter of the nation’s cider makers, and Oregon is emerging as a national leader in craft cider production. Our research at the North Willamette Research and Extension Center (NWREC) is helping to give Oregon cider makers the best possible ingredients.

Most people don’t realize that making cider is very similar to making wine: fruit variety and harvest year have a big influence on both. As with wine, fruit characteristics and quality are essential for creating a superior quality cider.

Most of the cider in today’s marketplace is made from dessert apples, such as Gravenstein, Jonagold, and McIntosh. These apples are available in large quantities at a low price. And while dessert apples can produce good cider, heirloom apple varieties bred specifically for hard cider can imbue more complex flavor and aromas. They generally have more tannins, which produce complex body, astringency, and satisfying mouth-feel. However, the cost to make these complex ciders is high, which translates to high price tags in the store and reluctant buyers.

[caption caption="Researchers at OSU’s North Willamette Research and Extension Center are growing more than 90 varieties of cider apple trees to feed Oregon’s booming cider industry. (Photos by Shawn Linehan.)"] apples [/caption]

To help meet the needs of this rapidly growing industry, our research team is establishing a 3-acre research and demonstration cider orchard at NWREC in Aurora. The orchard will include over 90 apple varieties on five different rootstocks, and one acre of high density, trellised trees. Some varieties are well known in the industry and in high demand by cider makers, and others are lesser-known or experimental varieties that we will evaluate under western Oregon conditions.

Our aim is to determine the best varieties and production practices that can increase yield while reducing costs. Our primary focus will be on mechanization for pruning and harvesting to reduce labor costs. To that end, we plan to explore English- style mechanical shake-and-catch and shake-and-sweep techniques, potentially using existing, readily available equipment that has been modified from the hazelnut industry.

Also, we are collecting data from a cider orchard at OSU’s Lewis-Brown research farm that will help orchardists choose the best varieties to plant. The orchard has been neglected for many years, so it makes a good case study for identifying trees that perform well in low-maintenance orchards with no disease control or added fertility.

In partnership with OSU’s fermentation sciences program, using apples from the Lewis-Brown farm, we hope to better understand the relationship between thechemical compounds found in apples andthe taste and aromas in cider. We also planto conduct sensory panels with Oregoncider makers. They are critical partners inthe future success of our field program,helping to ensure that the best performingvarieties also have the characteristicscidermakers desire.

Our research team is excited to helpthe Oregon cider industry grow and establishitself as a leader in the national ciderindustry.


Aaron Heinrich is a faculty research assistant at OSU’s North Willamette Research and Extension Center, where he works closely with Nik Wiman, Extension specialist in tree orchard crops, and Heather Andrews, faculty research assistant.