MORP has been working to restore the once-vibrant fruit market in Southwest Colorado. They believe there is strong emerging market for local apples, especially in the burgeoning hard-cider industry, says MORP director Nina Williams.
“The purpose of the grant is to evaluate the feasibility of a mobile cider press in area orchards,” she said.
Pressing juice in an orchard saves the transportation costs of delivering it to a processing facility.
In pilot project this month, Northwest Mobile Juicing, of Montana, will set up its portable pressing plant at a local orchard and press 800 bushels of apples, enough to make 2,200 gallons of juice.
The mobile, commercial-grade juicer includes an apple press, pasteurizer and bag-in-box packager.
“It is a pilot project to see if it will work here in order to bring back a local market for apple juice,” Williams said. “That has been missing since Mountain Sun Juice closed in 2001.”
If the trial apple-press run is a success, the next hurdle would be to pass state and federal regulations for retail and wholesale distribution of packaged apple juice.
Then, if deemed feasible, MORP will prepare a business plan to acquire and operate a mobile pressing plant. The mobile units cost about $120,000, not including the truck and generator.
In the past few years, there has been a local movement to revive long-ignored apple orchards and forge a market for the crop, rather than let the fruit drop to the ground and rot.
Sara Miller saw the potential for her apple orchard in Weber Canyon.
After some research, she discovered many of the varieties — bitter apples known as “spitters” — are ideal for making hard cider because of their heavy tannins and complex flavors. She has been pressing them into juice and is in the planning stages of opening a hard cider store called McNeals in Durango.
“We’ve been giving it to our friends, and they love it,” Miller said. “Cider is a premier business to get into right now.”
According to industry reports, cider sales rose from 4.5 million cases sold in 2010 to 23.2 million cases sold in 2014, but sales tapered off in 2015. Cider consumption in the U.S. has increased 850 percent in the last five years, according to a Cornell University horticulturist, as reported in the Ithaca Voice.
Last year, Miller and her business partner pressed enough apples to generate 9,000 gallons of juice.
“Picking and pressing is labor intensive, but is better than letting go to waste on the ground,” she said, adding that more cold storage facilities are needed for the local industry.
To try out locally made hard cider, attend the Dolores Harvest Fest on Oct. 8 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. in Flanders Park. Cider tastings will be at 1 p.m. and 2 p.m. for a fee, and reserved space is limited.
To reserve a spot for hard cider tastings, pre-register via PayPal at montezumaorchard.org, put “cider tasting” in memo line. Or email [email protected] to get on list. The cost for the hard cider tasting is $20 or $15 for MORP members.