My “Tastemaker” series is dedicated to highlighting the true tastmakers in the North American beverage scene — not sommeliers, buyers or writers. Each installment focuses on one of the passionate, talented people making the best beverages in North America today.
If someone were to construct the Mount Rushmore of American Cider — the real stuff, not the mass-produced, beer bottle stuff — there is no doubt that Foggy Ridge Cider‘s Diane Flynt would be on the monument. Her “First Fruit” cider was the first serious cider (not to be confused with Foggy Ridge’s “Serious Cider”) I ever tasted several years ago. It piqued my interest and started me on my cider-drinking journey.
In a landscape where many cidermakers seem to be aligning themselves as beer alternatives–seen in packaging, added flavorings or adjuncts — Flynt is a purist. As you’ll read below, she eschews any additions in her ciders. Instead, she’s aligned herself with Virginia’s burgeoning wine industry, and it makes perfect sense. Her ciders are clean, bright and expressive of the apples she’s growing in her remote Virginia orchard.
Get to know just a bit more about one of the true leaders — and tastemakers — in the American cider community.
Location: Dugspur, Virginia
Current Job: Founder and owner, Foggy Ridge Cider
Wine/cider/beer of the moment: I really like Eve’s Beckhorn Hollow right now. Its bright acidity is right in the center of what I appreciate in a-well made cider and I love the aroma, which is one of the hardest attributes to maintain in cider. I’m also a big fan of sparkling wine, and always enjoy Claude Thibault’s Virginia sparkling wine, Thibault Jannisson. Claude is a French champagne maker who makes a delicious sparkling wine from Virginia grapes here in the Commonwealth.
My cidermaking style in 1-5 words: Bright acidity, layered flavors, elegant, clean and expressive of cider fruit. More than 5 words but I did my best!
First bottle of wine I remember drinking: A deeply flavorful French cider sometime in the 1980s at a New York restaurant. I was blown away—”what is this?”, I thought.
How I got here: My husband and I looked for farmland suitable to grow cider apples for over three years before landing in this corner of the Southern Appalachians. Our 3000-foot elevation orchard means a good diurnal swing, less fungus and insect pressure, and no need for air conditioning!
My cidermaking style — in more words: My guiding principle has always been to “do the best by the fruit”—it’s hard to grow these cider apples and in the cellar I’ve always tried to express the best that each apple or field blend of apples can show in the bottle. My goal is to make the best cider I can, not figure out what to add or manipulate to make my cider better.
For me, it’s all about a clean fermentation, as little manipulation as possible and no added flavoring. That last point puts Foggy Ridge on a divergent course from most United States cider makers—if you have great fruit, why would anyone want to add hops, ferment in bourbon barrels or add lime juice? We are purists when it comes to orchard-based cider, so I guess if I have a style that’s it!
Mentors: The Virginia winemaking community has been generous to me and other Virginia cidermakers. Dr. Bruce Zoecklein at Virginia Tech was an early supporter back in the late 1990s when I planted our first cider apple orchard. Bruce was kind enough to allow me to audit his enology courses and to take his lab courses (several times I might add!).
Steve Wood at Farnum Hill was generous in sharing information and I’ve learned a great deal about the cider business from Eleanor Leger at Eden Cider. I also have learned much from beverage professionals, somms and Beverage Directors like Steven Grubbs, Andy Chabot and Derek Brown.
Music playing in the cellar right now: The cellar is usually too noisy for music and I listen to podcasts when I’m driving. Gravy, the Southern Foodways Alliance podcast is a favorite (I’m on their board so somewhat biased!) and Krista Tippett’s great podcast, On Being. I also like Hidden Brain from Shankar Vedantam. And on Saturdays, always the Metropolitan Opera simulcasts, even in the orchard.
Favorite thing about the local cider industry: The best “makers”, whether wine or cider, are always learning. And talking to experienced orchardists in Virginia is always a treat—Raul Godinez at Countryside Nursery or John and Ruth Saunders at Silver Creek Orchard. They have forgotten more about apple growing than I know.
Least favorite thing about the local cider industry: Some cidermakers seem reluctant to gather together to taste cider, to critically taste cider as beverage pros. Tasting, evaluating and talking technical details is key to getting better, learning and growing. It’s not about holding on to information or being defensive about the cider one makes. I’d like to see exploration of flavor and knowledge develop in the US cidermaking community over the next few years.
One surprising thing that I’m really good at: I am a really good cook. Of course, I live 50 miles round trip from a mediocre restaurant so this might not be surprising. And my husband and I are avid cyclists—every fall we host a Chuck Flynt Birthday Ride celebration where we ride the number of miles of my husband’s age on the Blue Ridge Parkway with about 30 friends. This fall it’s 77 years and 77 miles (Chuck is much older than I am!)…we call this “younger by the mile” and have a blast. He rides me into the ground, by the way.
What I drink: We’re quite experimental drinkers of fermented beverages–mostly wine and cider. We work with some wonderful wine retailers in our markets and I’m always asking the owners “What should I drink this week?” We’re drinking lots of Spanish wines right now, after going on a bike trip to Spain last year. So many new grapes and flavors! The qualities I appreciate in cider—crisp acidity, fruit flavors but not sweet, complex and layered—are qualities I look for in wine so I find myself gravitating to European white wines, mostly from higher elevation vineyards.
My “Desert Island Meal” — wine/cider/beer included: On an island, it would have to be seafood, simply prepared with a crisp dry cider (like our Serious Cider) and a rich white wine, something from Austria or Northern Italy. We grow a ton of vegetables here at Foggy Ridge and have over 4,000 square feet of vegetable gardens just for two people, so lots of vegetable for sure.