Cider Series: Castle Hill

Posted on December 24, 2013 by


Revolutionizing old world and new world cider making.

Once a cattle show barn, the home of Castle Hill Cider is a beautiful expanse of history, from over 100 year old trees to handmade vats called kvevris imported from the Republic of Georgia. In just its fourth year of production, this local cidery is the only commercial cidery in the world making cider underground – old world cider style.

The kvevris are clay terracotta vats buried underground and lined with bees wax, and range in size from 300 plus gallons to 60-70 gallons. Once to twice a week, you can catch the cider makers “sparging the kvevris,” a regular process where CO2 is pushed into the juice held inside the vats.

Cider maker Stuart Madany and assistant cider maker Geoff Robinson have found a balance between these handmade rustic vats and the modern mechanical lids to seal the vats. As Geoff demonstrated, much of the cider making process is experimental.

Craft cider is different every year. From the variation in the fermentation process to the varietals of apples used from year to year, each time the product is unique. And here in Charlottesville, the collaboration between cideries is one of friendly consultations and enjoyment of the products. “Everybody is doing different things,” added Geoff about local cideries.

Geoff Robinson, assistant cider maker

Geoff Robinson, assistant cider maker

Stuart Madany, cider maker and orchard manager at Castle Hill, shared the history of the cidery and some of his holidays picks for those upcoming dinners and parties.

Stuart Madany of Castle Hill

The handmade kvevris, imported from the Republic of Georgia.

The handmade kvevris, imported from the Republic of Georgia.

Give us a brief history of your cidery.

Planning began in 2009 and the orchard was planted in fall of that year.  During 2010, we became the first US importers of kvevri from Georgia, and the first commercial cidery to utilize them.  The first fermentations began in fall of 2010 and our tasting room opened on July 15, 2011.  This was the day that the legislation went into effect allowing Virginia ciders to have more than 7% alcohol if the apples naturally fermented out higher (we didn’t want to water down).

When and why did you decide to found a cidery here in Virginia? What about Cville and the surrounding area makes it ideal for cider-makers?

Castle Hill Cider began with the owner’s desire to fully utilize the agricultural potential of the land.   As we investigated, we discovered the tradition of apple growing and of cider in this area, and the fact that the Newtown Pippin (here called the Albemarle Pippin) first arrived in Albemarle County in a planting at Castle Hill.  Additionally, the thriving interest in craft and local food in this area makes it a great location.  The existence of the two Virginia Cideries that preceded us certainly went a long way to get our initial interest going.

tasting room entrance


What varietal of apples do you use in your cider? How do varietals affect the end product (from sweet to dry hard cider)?

There are 14 varieties in the 2013 “vintage.”  We have 26 varieties in the orchard.  Some of these are bearing and some should start next year.  Many of these are heirloom varieties such as Black Twig, Albemarle Pippin, and Ashmead’s Kernel.  Some are modern varieties such as Gold Rush, and some are high tannin “cider only” varieties such as Dabinett.

The varieties have a huge impact on the finished cider.  Different apple varieties contain different levels of sugar and acid, and different amounts and types of aromatics and tannins.  Different apples have different body as well.  Grimes Golden, for example, has little tannin and a very delicate largely floral aroma (at least in our fermentations), but has a very heavy body.  This makes it a great blending apple but a bit thin on flavors / aromas on its own.

In 10 words or less, describe your cider!

Varied, Experimentative, User-friendly, Food-friendly, Synthesis of ancient and modern approaches.


What are 5 things people don’t know about the cider-making process?

  1. Apple varieties and ripeness make a huge difference.
  2. Different strains of yeast render different aromatic elements of the juice perceptible.
  3. Some varieties of apple need time for their flavor to develop after picking.
  4. There are many varieties of apple that are only raised for use in cider.
  5. Cider, especially cider with substantial tannin, continues to change in the bottle much like (grape) wine.

tastingWith another Cider Week VA past us, how would you describe the hard cider revival?


How have you seen Cider Week VA grow, and the overall following of local cider makers?

The 2012 Cider Week VA was largely centered on the Charlottesville area.  2013 saw a number of very successful and enthusiastically received events in Richmond, as well as some in the valley.  Hosted here at Castle Hill Cider, last year’s Cider Fest had ~200 participants.  This year we had about 800 attendees.

What is your most popular cider? Why?

We make a range of ciders, and have been pleased to see that the customers are fairly evenly divided on their favorites.  Overall, Celestial is probably the most popular cider.  It is a fairly complex blend of several apple varieties with some tannin and a touch of unfermented sugar that highlights the fruit while leaving it still essentially dry.  It’s layered, crisp, and lightly sparkling.

Suggest one of your ciders for the holiday season ahead. What makes it perfect for the holidays?

Terrestrial is a bone dry sparkling blend of two traditional Virginia cider apples, Albemarle Pippin and Winesap.  It’s light and makes a great apperatif for holiday entertaining, with a lower alcohol level than sparkling wine or champagne.


Share a recipe or favorite dish to pair with one of your ciders.

Simple: Prosciutto wrapped melon paired with ‘Gravity’ (our still off-dry cider).

A little more work or out on the town: Dean Maupin of C&O created a wonderful cider dinner entrée of smoked loin of Tamworth pork with whipped apples and braised cabbage.  Pair with ‘Terrestrial.’

Interview and Words by Linnea White
Photography by Katerina Diplas

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Posted in: cheers, Cider Series