For generations, mid-Michigan residents — along with travelers throughout the Midwest — have enjoyed weekend jaunts up to Uncle John’s Cider Mill, on US 27 in St. John’s. Uncle John’s is a frequent site for events such as car shows, ultralight aviation fly-ins, concerts and, of course, pick-your-own fruit and vegetable excursions. Now in its fifth generation of family ownership, what started as a simple fruit farm has become a full-fledged, family-friendly, agricultural tourist destination. Modern features include a bakery, a restaurant, a gift shop (featuring a selection of locally made fudge, jerky and syrup) and the Fruit House Winery, which has its own wine and cider tasting room. Each weekend, thousands flock to Uncle John’s for the products, the events and the fun.
The Fruit House Winery is a destination all its own. There are 19 options, including a chardonnay as well as several blends — and some of the other choices get a little more playful, such as honey wine, cranberry wine and peach wine. Their house-made apple brandy, distilled on site from their cider, is delicious, and the tasting room offers up to 11 different hard ciders, depending upon the season. Hard cider is refreshing and thirst quenching with widespread crowd appeal, and is a perfect addition to a fall tailgate table. Drinkers who enjoy lighter beers and crisper white wines would be big fans of cider.
Which brings us to the 5th Annual Great Lakes Cider and Perry Festival, to be held at Uncle John’s this Saturday, Sept. 8. If you enjoy sampling beers and wines, you shouldn’t miss the opportunity to sample hard apple cider and hard pear cider (also known as perry), brought in from producers throughout the Great Lakes region. The hard cider industry in Michigan is rapidly expanding, with local wineries and breweries adding hard cider production to their traditional fermented beverage expertise. In fact, Michigan is now reputed to have more cider producers than any other state in the nation, and Mike Beck, co-proprietor at Uncle John’s, is one of Michigan’s hard cider pioneers and a foremost authority on the subject.
Great Lakes region ciders and perries come in numerous flavors and styles. They are made with apple and pear varieties of which most of us have never heard, and which would be unpleasant as table fruit due to their hard texture and relative bitterness. Cider apples and pears are typically high in tannins (contributing to structure), acids (balancing sweetness) and sugars (necessary for fermentation). Hard cider is frequently produced by blending several varieties, each adding its own unique character. The permutations are endless: still or sparkling, sweet, dry, soft or acidic, single fruit or blended — including with other fruits, such as Michigan cherries) — and organic or farmed with traditional methods.
The Great Lakes Cider and Perry Festival will feature the music of Fading World Band, who play a wide variety of styles, including rock, country, pop and Big Band. Attendees will be able to sample more than 100 ciders and perries from Michigan and surrounding states. The $15 ticket price includes commemorative glass and 10 sample pours.
No time to drive up to the cider mill? No worries — Lansing-area oenophiles can also visit Uncle John’s satellite tasting room in the Lansing City Market.
In Vino Veritas
(Michael Brenton is president of the Greater Lansing Vinters Club. His column appears monthly.)