By Robin Swanson
In search of some of our city’s hidden gems, I hit the goldmine on a Friday evening when I visited two Sacramento businesses, Two Rivers Cider (LINK) and Revolution Winery (LINK), each innovating in their own way, creating hand-crafted hard-ciders and wine. Tapping into our region’s enviable location, nestled just below Apple Hill, Two Rivers’ owner Vincent Sterne has made the most of our easy access to some of the juiciest apples in the Western States, creating unique varietals from a Blood Orange Cider to an Organic Pomegranate Cider. The owners of Revolution Winery have also capitalized on our proximity to fertile grape-growing land like Amador County’s wine-country, as well as even using local grapes from Sacramento County and Clarksburg, among others.
Knowing virtually nothing about the cider-making, I started the night at the Two Rivers’ plant, just off of Freeport Blvd., along with some adventurous girlfriends, Meghan and Becky, and a designated driver. After being greeted by the cidery dog, Rita – owner Vincent Sterne gave us the low-down on the art of hand-crafted cider making. Initially a brewer by trade, Sterne describes cider making as “wine-making in a beer-crafted style.” The fermentation and aging process, he explained, are not unlike wine-making – though the fruit of origin is obviously different and wine is generally aged longer. Because of the quality of juice he is able to import locally, much of it from the Barsotti Juice Company of Apple Hill, Sterne says that unlike many of the larger manufacturers of hard-cider, he produces his cider without adding any sugar nor using any concentrate in the fermentation process. In fact, the ciders that we tasted weren’t syrupy-sweet, at all, but instead had a refreshingly tart flavor.
Despite working for more than 18 years locally at Rubicon Brewery, Sterne said he decided to open his own cidery in 1996, because no one else was making hand-crafted cider in Sacramento, and he didn’t want to compete with the already-existing beer brewers in the area, whom he refers to as his “buddies.” Many of those same friends now serve Two Rivers’ cider in downtown establishments, including Rubicon, River City Brewing Company, MagPie, Monkey Bar, Kru, Hoppy Brewing Company, Sofia, Socals and Pieces – to name a few. Sterne said he is currently looking for a location downtown to open a tasting room, and might even be partnering with other producers of hand-crafted wines, beers and possibly even coffees, to provide a uniquely Sacramento-based artisan experience.
In addition to his unique ciders, Sterne also produces a “cycer,” my personal favorite, which goes through the cider fermenting and aging process with honey in the mix. This was darker, thicker and yes, sweeter than the other ciders we tasted. Though hard-cider has been around since as early as 55 BC, when Kentish villages started making it, and it became popular in 9th Century Europe under Charlemagne, cider has yet to become as fashionable as wine-drinking or considered as “manly” as drinking hand-crafted beers in this country. Sterne thinks once people actually taste his tart ciders, they might have a different opinion. He even creates an aged Dry English varietal for those who would like to grow some hair on their chest. (Editorial note – yes, I realize this is being published on a site written by women, who would prefer to remain sans chest-hair, but might still appreciate an aged cider…)
With a new understanding and appreciation for the craft of cider-making, we headed over to Revolution Winery to cap off our evening. Tucked behind an alley at 2116 P Street, walking into Revolution Winery feels like walking into an old-school speak-easy, with a modern urban flair. We were greeted by the funky sounds of a live band called “Surface Tension,” and a room filled with people enjoying a wine-tasting paired with a hearty platter of apples, olives, crackers and cheese.
The generous hand-crafted premium wine-tasting for $10 included pours of a Pinot Grigio using grapes from Clarksburg, a Verdelho using grapes from Sacramento County, a Grenache using grapes from Mendocino, a “Renzo” (an Italian-style blend named after the owner’s father) using grapes from the North Coast, a Cabernet Sauvignon using grapes from Mendocino, a Sangiovese using grapes from Napa, a Zinfandel using grapes from Amador, and two varietals of port.
Of the wines I tasted, the Mendocino Cabernet Sauvignon, which comes from grapes they apparently forgot they had, and the Ruby Port, a rich, butterscotch-infused port using grapes from Sacramento County were my two favorites. Others decided that the Grenache, which earned “Best of Class” at the California State Fair, would be a fun summer wine to serve.
Though all of the wines were delicious, it was Revolution’s inviting ambience and fun atmosphere that would keep me coming back – that, and a renewed appreciation for Sacramento’s budding artisan hand-crafted beverages.