Hard-cider producers are now scattered throughout the state (for a good overview, see the Hudson Valley Cider Route map), but Soons and his partners are diverging from most of the crowd by making cider that, like French examples, is bottle-fermented. Its delicate, champagne-like fizz comes from yeast respiring within the bottle rather than infusions of carbon dioxide.
Orchard Hill also plans to release an apple liqueur in the style of Pommeau, the French blend of Calvados and fresh apple juice often consumed in Normandy as an aperitif. Orchard Hill’s test batch, with its syrupy richness, is almost certainly the only product of its sort being made in the United States.
Regional identity became the day’s theme. At Tuthilltown, Erenzo told us that the distillery’s long-term goal is to make a softer version of Calvados, without the harsh, volatile flavors that can linger in French brandies until they’ve sat for decades. “I like Calvados,” he said, “but you have to age the hell out of it.”
Farther north, in Annandale-on-Hudson, Adam Fincke gave us a tour of Montgomery Place Orchards and Annandale Cidery. “We’ve got a lot of books printed in the late 1700s that talk about Jefferson’s and George Washington’s favorite cider apples,” he said. Many of the orchard’s more than 60 kinds of apples are heirloom American varieties. The cider — sweet, complex, extracted in two-gallon bursts on a tiny press — is packaged not in wine bottles but in Mason jars.
Still, as the sun sank behind the earthy fall foliage and dusk settled over the orchard, it was hard to forget about France. An hour or so later, we parked on a quiet street in the town of Hudson, where the manager of Cafe Le Perche was outside, preparing to lock the door.
“We haven’t had anyone here since 2,” he said; he had sent the staff home early. Would he still serve us? Yes, he would.
Past a long zinc bar, in a high-ceilinged room filled with rustic wood furniture, I ate a sandwich of Dijon-crusted pork loin with onion jam and caramelized apples. But it didn’t taste French. It tasted, I think, like New York.