Team studies cider market

By Ryan Cornell

The most popular alcoholic beverage from Colonial times to Prohibition could be making a comeback, if Greg Peck has anything to do with it.

An assistant professor of horticulture at Virginia Tech, Peck is studying the economics of the cider market and the varieties of apples that ferment best.

“The characteristics we look for are acidity and tannin content, which is hard to find in dessert apples,” he said. “Tannin is the astringency and bitterness; it gives the cider a big mouthy feel.”

Peck works at the university’s Agricultural Research and Extension Center in Winchester, which also studies cherries, peaches and wine grapes. He said he’s testing American apples with English and French varieties.

“Some varieties are multipurpose while there’s another class of apples that are called ‘spitters’ because they’re so bitter they’re not going to be enjoyable to eat,” he said. “They make great cider.”

Peck, two agricultural economists and an oenologist on his team recently received a $30,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Marketing Service Specialty Crop Block Grant Program. Their project is one of 19 specialty crop projects throughout the state receiving federal funding, totaling more than $451,00 in grant money for Virginia.

This is the third grant Peck has been awarded for studying hard cider production.

“We’re always looking for ways to make our growers more profitable and sustainable,” said Peck, who added that this year’s apples have been a bumper crop. “Hard cider is a high value-added product.”

According to Peck, Virginia is the fifth largest producer of apples and has at least eight commercial cideries. Virginia Cider Week, which celebrates the state’s hard cider production, is Nov. 15-24.

Peck’s project is titled, “Developing Research-based Resources on Hard Cider Apples for Virginia’s Commercial Orchards and Cider Makers.”

Contact staff writer Ryan Cornell at 540-465-5137 ext. 164, or rcornell@nvdaily.com