Hard cider on the rise in Sonoma County

The "Follow This Story" feature will notify you when any articles related to this story are posted.

When you follow a story, the next time a related article is published — it could be days, weeks or months — you'll receive an email informing you of the update.

If you no longer want to follow a story, click the "Unfollow" link on that story. There's also an "Unfollow" link in every email notification we send you.

This tool is available only to subscribers; please make sure you're logged in if you want to follow a story.

Please note: This feature is available only to subscribers; make sure you're logged in if you want to follow a story.


This story originally appeared on, also part of the Sonoma Media Investments news network.

Grapes may be all the rage in Sonoma County today, but there was a time when another fruit was at the top of the local crop.

In the 1940s, nearly 15,000 acres in the county were planted with apples. Over time, most of the orchards have been replaced by vineyards, but locals have remained loyal to the crunchy fruit and the scenic orchards that support it.

In the past few years, cider makers have led the charge in rejuvenating local orchards and bringing back the apple — albeit in a liquid form. Thanks to the growing popularity of hard cider, it looks like they may be succeeding. To celebrate the noble fruit, we’ve lined up a few Sonoma County cideries you should get to know this year:

ACE Premium Craft Cider

ACE is a family-owned Sonoma County cider company that released its first cider in 1993. Through the years, ACE has continued to evolve and grow into a nationally known brand while hanging onto its Sonoma County roots.

Owner and Founder Jeffrey House and his sons like to keep things fresh, adding new, unique flavors and seasonal offerings such as the recently released Ginger Cider. Their soon-to-be-released Apple Honey Cider (expected late January) is made with organic, wildflower honey from Gipson’s Golden honey of Santa Rosa. A portion of profits from the new honey cider, with a taste similar to mead, will be donated to Project Apis, which funds honey bee research.

Despite its distribution across the country, ACE still operates a Cider Pub where locals can buy its ciders directly. The cider pub is open from 1 to 5 p.m. Fridays, when you can stop by to grab a quick pint, fill up a growler and enjoy some live music. If the cider is flowing and the pub is full, they may keep the doors open a little longer.

Tasting flights of all nine varieties of cider are $10. The cider pub is located behind the company’s production facility at 2064 Gravenstein Highway North, Sebastopol. 707-823-1101.

Agrestic Ferments

David Ridenhour produced the first release of Agrestic cider in 2014 with the help of seasoned cidermakers Scott Heath and Ellen Cavalli of Tilted Shed. Ridenhour makes his small-batch farmhouse ciders out of a shared facility in Forestville and uses fresh seasonal fruit sourced from local farms. Although his operation remains small-scale (the company doesn’t even have a website yet), Ridenhour’s ciders are already making their mark, and his plans for the future are ambitious. More exclusive ciders will be released this year as well as a mead, a fermented beverage made with honey. As for the website, it will be up and running early this year at

You can sample Agrestic ciders at the Forestville production facility (appointment required), or purchase bottles at BeerCraft in Rohnert Park, Bottle Barn in Santa Rosa or the Rincon Valley Taproom in Santa Rosa. To make a tasting appointment, email Ridenhour at 9287 Torrs Way.

Ethic Cider

Ned and Michelle Lawton bought their Sebastopol heirloom apple farm in 2016 after being bit by the cider bug. Shortly after, they launched Ethic Ciders.

Now in their second year of production, the couple makes some 2,000 cases of heirloom cider using 100 percent organically and ethically farmed fruit sourced from their own cider apple orchard and neighboring apple farmers. The Lawtons are strong proponents of regenerative farming and like to explore strategies that both heal the land and increase the quality of the apples grown at their orchard on Occidental Road.

This story originally appeared on, also part of the Sonoma Media Investments news network.

“We hand press many of our bittersweet apples from the home orchard, and they go into our ciders as blend components,” Lawton said. “We grow Nehou, Wickson’s and Porters Perfection, to name a few that come from our home orchard.”

For the rest of the apples, the Lawtons use the commercial apple press at Rattzlaff Ranch in Sebastopol then ferment and bottle the juice in Petaluma.

Ethic ciders are available on tap at Community Market in Sebastopol, or in bottles at Andy’s Produce in Sebastopol, Bohemian Market in Occidental, Oliver’s Markets and Bottle Barn in Santa Rosa and Rincon Valley Taproom in Santa Rosa.

The ciders — 2017 Montage (a blend of heirloom and bittersweet apples layered with wild harvest pears and crabapples), 2017 Gravitude (Gravenstein apples), 2018 Golden Rule (Golden Delicious apples) and 2017 Scarlett (a pink cider made with boysenberries and raspberries) — can also be purchased on the company website, 415-717-4416.

Golden State Cider

The Devoto family has been farming apples since the late 1970s, when Stan and Susan Devoto planted themselves, along with 50 varieties of heirloom apple trees, in the west county.

Daughter Jolie Devoto-Wade, along with her husband Hunter Wade, launched their own cider project in 2012 using the rare, heirloom apple varieties that the Devotos had grown for decades. That cider project eventually developed into Golden State Cider and last year, all Devoto ciders became part of the Golden State Cider brand.

In order to meet production demands and maintain a reasonable price point, Golden State ciders now include apples sourced from regions outside of Sonoma County, primarily from the Pacific Northwest.

For those who prefer to drink local fruit, there’s a special Harvest Series that features ciders made only from organic Sonoma County apples. That series includes the Save the Gravenstein, a heritage-style cider made exclusively from Gravenstein apples grown in the Sebastopol hills.

“It’s the largest program we’ve ever done with Gravensteins, which we’re very excited about,” said co-founder Devoto-Wade. “This year we pressed 100-plus tons of local Sonoma County apples.”

The Harvest Series also includes “Fool’s Gold,” an aromatic cider made from organic apple varieties grown on Gold Ridge Road in Sebastopol; and “The Elder Tree,” which features Newtown Pippin and Arkansas Black varieties. “Fool’s Gold” will be available this month; “The Elder Tree” is currently sold out.

Golden State Ciders are now sold exclusively in cans and can be purchased at “Save the Gravenstein” can be found locally on draft and in bottles at Handline and Community Market in Sebastopol. Oliver’s Markets and BevMo’s across the state also carry the ciders.

This year, the team behind Golden State Cider has some exciting plans in the works, including a new production facility in Healdsburg and a taproom at The Barlow in Sebastopol. The opening of the new taproom, which will serve hard ciders as well as non-alcoholic versions, is scheduled for spring 2019. There will be fresh food sourced from the Devoto farm and their West County neighbors.

Leaky Barrel Cider

This Sonoma County cidery was founded by brothers Bradley, Blake and Scott Yarger in 2016. As a side project for the three brothers, it remains a small and slow-growing operation. Leaky Barrel only produces some 200 cases per year, pressing the apples at Ratzlaff Ranch and fermenting and bottling at Old World Winery in Fulton.

Thanks to Bradley’s experience in the distribution industry and Blake’s winemaker expertise, the ciders have been selling out quickly.

In making their ciders, the brothers ferment Sonoma County apples using native yeasts, and age the ciders in neutral French oak without any added sulfites. Since the ciders are made from whatever fruit is available every harvest season, they vary in taste each year.

Their farmhouse cider, The S.A.S.H. (single apple single hop), is made from local organic Gravenstein apples and is dry-hopped with organic, whole-cone Gargoyle hops from Hops-Meister farms in Lake County.

Bradley is now collaborating with David Ridenhour of Agrestic Ferments on a bay leaf-aged cider called Sonoma Strong. Proceeds from the cider, dedicated to a mutual friend who died in the 2017 wildfires, will benefit The Just and Resilient Future Fund.

Leaky Barrel ciders can be purchased at Oliver’s Markets, Bottle Barn in Santa Rosa, Willibees in Petaluma, Rincon Valley Tap Room, Beercraft in Rohnert Park and Andy’s Produce in Sebastopol.

Tilted Shed

Scott Heath and Ellen Cavalli launched Tilted Shed in 2011, and the business has been growing steadily ever since. Now in its seventh year, the cidery has seven ciders available at the Windsor taproom as well as online, and the company’s Cider Club is at full capacity.

There seems to be a constant and ever-increasing demand for Tilted Shed’s terroir-driven heirloom apple ciders, which are available across the state as well as in Portland, Oregon and the New York City area.

When they aren’t busy apple farming, making ciders or assisting customers, Cavalli and Heath are pouring their energy into a variety of cider- and apple-related projects. They couple initiated and coordinated the first Sonoma County Cider Week in August of last year; they recently launched their own cider-focused quarterly print magazine, Malus; and they travel across the country to sit on panels at national cider events. Cavalli recently spoke about women in the cider industry at the CiderDays event in Franklin County, Massachusetts and will moderate a panel and give a speech at the U.S Association of Cider Makers annual conference in Chicago in February.

Tilted Shed Cidery & Tasting Room is open from noon to 5 p.m. Saturdays and for special events. 7761 Bell Road, Windsor. Tastings are $10, waived with a two-bottle purchase.

The ciders are available throughout California and online at 707-657-7796.

Horse & Plow

Horse & Plow’s cider- making business started as an experiment in 2013, when Chris Condos and Suzanne Hagins suddenly found themselves with an abundance of apples on their Sebastopol property.

The two winemakers decided to make good use of the fruit by creating another fermented drink. Their elegant, blended ciders — fermented separately by varietal — soon garnered a following, and their cider-making business grew. Due to the high demand, they’ve doubled their production since 2013.

Horse & Plow is currently producing some 1,200 cases of cider each year, and release a new cider — using a different apple varietal and blend — at their Sebastopol tasting barn every couple of weeks. Varietals include Wickson, Jonathan, Swaar/Pippin blend and Arkansas Black.

A couple of seasonal ciders are also available in their tasting barn: Nuevo 2018 Gravenstein, which is fresh, tart and funky; and Skin Ferment Arkansas Black, which is rich, spicy and complex with mild tannins. The couple hosts a First Friday event every month with live music, food and cider tasting in the tasting barn.

Horse & Plow tasting barn is open daily from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. 1272 Gravenstein Hwy. N, Sebastopol, 707-827-3486.

Dutton Estate Winery

The Dutton family has been farming apples at their agricultural headquarters along a stretch of Graton Road for more than 50 years, but they didn’t start making their own commercial hard ciders until 2015. Today, they farm about 180 acres of organic apples in addition to more than 1,000 acres of grapes.

The Duttons currently produce two, handcrafted ciders: one flagship cider, Dutton Estate Hard Apple Cider, made by blending estate Gravensteins with Golden Delicious; and a limited-production hard cider made from Fuji apples. The refreshing ciders are barrel fermented and bottled in beer-sized, 500 milliliter bottles.

Because the apples used in these ciders are harvested at different times, they typically sell out before the next vintage is bottled.

The Fuji cider is currently sold out (it will be available again in the summer of 2019); the Gravenstein/Golden Delicious cider, which blends the sweet and tart flavors of the two apples, is available to taste and purchase at the family’s Sebastopol tasting room.

Dutton Estate Winery is at 8757 Green Valley Road, Sebastopol. It is open daily from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. 707-829-9463.

Brooke Herron is a California wine industry veteran with a penchant for seeking out local artisan food and drink. reach her at

Please read our commenting policy
  • No profanity, abuse, racism, hate speech or personal attacks on others.
  • No spam or off-topic posts. Keep the conversation to the theme of the article.
  • No disinformation about current events. Claims of "Fake News" will be delayed for moderation
  • No name calling. "Orange Menace", "Libtards", etc. are not respectful.
Send a letter to the editor

Our Network

Sonoma Index-Tribune
Petaluma Argus Courier
North Bay Business Journal
Sonoma Magazine
Bite Club Eats
La Prensa Sonoma
Emerald Report
Spirited Magazine