Nothing screams “autumn” quite like a crisp Washington state apple or a mug of warm apple cider.
And for Camas-Washougal residents hoping to get a true boost of autumn spirit this year, one local orchard is ready to help out.
Throughout the month of October, Columbia Gorge Vintners, a family-owned vineyard, winery and cider apple orchard near Washougal, is opening its cider orchards for weekend u-pick, cider-pressing events.
The setting is idyllic: an apple orchard tucked next to a vineyard, with cows and horses grazing nearby and a view of Mount Hood peaking through the trees.
Owners Cheryl and Ray Hall, with their knowledge of cider apples and friendly banter, add to the ambience of the place. Having purchased the property in 2010, the Halls planted grapes that grow in cooler climates like Germany, Canada and Austria and set out to run their own estate winery — bringing in workers only for the harvest then destemming, crushing, bottling and labeling their wines by themselves or with small groups of family and friends. In June 2019, the Craft Wine and Beer Fest in Vancouver awarded bronze medals to two of the Halls’ wines, a ’16 Leon Millot and a ’16 Marachal Foch.
The grapes, however, aren’t the only stars on the Halls’ property. The couple also grows Black Diamond raspberries and 21 long rows of cider apples.
The apples come in different varieties and produce myriad cider qualities. There are the Balwins in rows 1 and 2, described by the Halls as “good, old New England apples prized for making good cider.” And the “bittersweet and juicy” English cider-style Dabinett apples in rows 17 and 18. The Wicksons in rows 15 and 16 are the Hall’s “most intensely flavorful apple” with a high sugar content that helps produce a crisp, tart and tangy cider. And then there are the Cinnamon apples in rows 13 and 14, which are tiny compared to most of the other cider apples at the Halls’ orchard, but that pack a lot of sweet flavor with a slightly cinnamon aftertaste into their small, red bodies.
The Halls have already sold many of their cider apples to Stone Circle cidery in Estacade, Oregon, but still have hundreds of pounds left to pick and press into cider for families looking for a fun, outdoor activity during October’s weekends.
Interested? Here is how it works: The Halls provide four buckets and a cart to take into the orchard. Along the way, they’ve set up a station with running water and soap for pickers to wash their hands. Face coverings are encouraged when there is more than one family in the orchard, but there also is plenty of room to socially distance, even while picking the apples. After filling the four buckets and carting them back to the Halls’ main parking lot area, the couple will put the apples into their apple-crushing machine and produce four buckets of apple mash. They will provide equipment and instructions for the apple presses. The entire process takes about two hours, and groups must bring their own containers to take approximately seven to eight gallons of apple cider home.
The Halls have enough space to accommodate five groups in the morning and another five in the afternoon. They will offer apple-picking and cider-pressing from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays until their apples are gone, likely by the beginning of November. The cost is $50 to pick 100 pounds of apples and press them into 7 to 8 gallons of cider.
The orchard is located at 5500 S.E. Hans Nagel Road. For more information, visit facebook.com/ColumbiaGorgeVintners.