Along with vineyards, Sonoma is known for its heritage orchards, which covered far more of the county before the region’s wine industry took off. These orchards are dominated by the area’s heirloom Gravenstein apple, which has, in turn, created a strong local cider industry. The soft-skinned apple’s “short shelf life and need for preservation” makes it the perfect candidate for hard cider, says Alexandria Sarovich, the executive wine director of Little Saint in Healdsburg, California.
But more recently, Sarovich has seen more local producers bringing together these two regional specialties by co-fermenting apples and grapes into a sparkling, pétillant naturel-style cuvée. These products are alternately referred to as apple and grape wine, cider, or, simply, co-ferments, depending on who you speak to.
“The addition of grape juice—and in some cases, just skins, like a piquette—in the fermentation adds sugar, equaling higher total alcohol,” says Sarovich, who notes that these co-ferments are usually between 9 and 12% ABV. “The grape skins add texture, color, and layers of red fruit—not to mention, the color becomes quite alluring.”
Though apples and grapes come together in these co-ferments, many of Sonoma’s 150-year-old orchards are being pulled up, often to plant vineyards. Sarovich, who pours a co-ferment as one of her two by-the-glass sparkling options, wonders if co-ferments could be the answer to preserving this piece of the region’s history. “Ironically, perhaps the only way to save these orchards is with the fortification of grapes and other Sonoma County native herbs to attract sales to support the crops,” she says.
Selling Points for Apple and Grape Co-Ferments
- Consumer fervor for pét-nats remains strong, driving interest in these pét-nat-style co-ferments.
- Typically deep pink in color, thanks to the red grapes or grape skins, these co-ferments are particularly attractive on retail shelves.
- Consumers already know the wines of Sonoma County, making the sell into an apple-grape co-ferment an easier one.
3 Apple and Grape Co-Ferments to Watch
- Ashanta ‘Virga Morada’ 2021, Sonoma County, California: Made by a young winemaking duo who crafts everything from Sauvignon Blanc to multi-fruit co-ferments, the Virga Morada combines organic Gravenstein from Bardos Cider with Syrah and Pinot Noir skins from winemaker Chenoa Ashton-Lewis’ family’s vineyard. Sarovich pours it by the glass at Little Saint.
- Tilted Shed Ciderworks ‘Vini Feral’ 2021, Sonoma County, California: Rhode Island Greening apples are co-fermented with a mix of wild, hybrid, and vinifera grapes (many are “mystery” grapes, though there is some old-vine Alicante Bouschet). It has “a brooding mouthfeel from the tannins, with forest floor and sour, dark cherries,” says Sarovich.
- Bardos Cider ‘Saint Cabora’ 2021, Sonoma County, California: “Bardos thinks of cider-making like a natural wine producer, sourcing only from zero-spray orchards and using zero sulfur in fermentation and bottling,” says Sarovich, who notes that they are determined to seek out overlooked orchards in order to preserve heritage apple trees. The Saint Cabora, a blend of aged cider over grape pomace, has “tart crab apple and cranberry notes, some barnyard funk, and a bright and lively finish.”
Courtney Schiessl Magrini is the editor-in-chief for SevenFifty Daily and the Beverage Media Group publications. Based in Brooklyn, she has held sommelier positions at some of New York’s top restaurants, including Marta, Dirty French, and Terroir, and her work has appeared in Wine Enthusiast, GuildSomm, Forbes.com, VinePair, EatingWell Magazine, and more. She holds the WSET Diploma in Wines. Follow her on Instagram at @takeittocourt.