High Country Outsider

Apple to Bird to Tree to Cider: Fenceline Story

Sam Perry, co-owner of Fenceline Cider, in Mancos, was a studio art major in college. So, it makes sense that he’d reference a color palette when describing the narrowness of cider flavors ‘round here.

Despite the wealth of apple varieties, “we’ve been painting with brown,” said Perry.

Fenceline, part of Outlier Cellars, wants to expand the palette and, in the process, get customers to step up their cider savvy.

At a time when you can’t bend an elbow without bumping into yet another craft brewer and yet another beer drinker who’s all about hop assemblage and IBU ratings, cider – made from local apples and served at a sweet, riverside tasting room – seems pretty darn refreshing.

Outlier Cellars is the new company owned by Perry and Neal Wight. I sat down with them recently to chat about the part of apples and their business that intrigued me the most: fencelines.

Without putting forth a dissertation on apple science, it’s nonetheless relevant to appreciate that the fruit’s genetics are funny. Genetically speaking, apples do fall far from the tree.

“It’s pretty much impossible for a Fuji apple seed from a Fuji apple tree to grow to be the same,” said Wight. “It might have similar traits, but it won’t be the same.”

That’s why commercial fruit from orchards worldwide are nearly entirely grafted stock. Grafting is how apple growers select for traits. Planting seeds is not.

When Perry and Wight started researching years ago, they’d drive around the Montezuma County, checking out old orchards.

 

Sam Perry (top) and Neal Wight celebrate a recent harvest

“But what we discovered very quickly was the most interesting apple varieties grew right outside of the orchards, along the fencelines,” said Perry.

Typically, birds feed on orchard apples. Perch on the fence. Poop seed. The fittest/strongest/luckiest seeds grow into trees and bear fruit. These trees, by their very nature, are resilient. They aren’t nurtured or protected by anyone or anything other than their fenceline status (which means they are less likely to be mowed down, for instance). Call it affectionate neglect.

The pair tasted and rated apples from scores of untended trees for tannin, acidity, sweetness, pick-ability, and size. They got in touch with land owners and asked for permission to take cuttings. Most folks were excited that someone was interested in the fruit from their untended trees, said Perry.

One of his favorite trees is along rancher Tom Weaver’s fenceline, near the Mormon church on Montezuma Street in Mancos.

“I called him up and said, ‘hey, you’ve got this cool cider tree. Can I take some cuttings?’ He said, ‘sure.’” Perry now has many trees on which are grafted fenceline cuttings. In time, these will bear some intensely provincial cider.

On his 90-acre Mancos property, the Outlier crew nurtures some 600 trees on five acres. When fully mature, they will harvest four to five tons of fruit per acre. Six months after a harvest, you’ll have a glass of very special Mancos cider.

“We’ll eventually be making ciders with fruit that no one else has access to. It’s unique to this region,” said Perry, who may steadily convert more pasture ground to orchard.

Will us cider drinkers step up to the challenge and learn to appreciate Fenceline nuance? It could be a pretty delicious task.

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DGO Magazine

Fencline Cider in Mancos is your new boozy home away from home

 

By: Jessie O’Brien 
DGO Staff Writer

 

Pour it up. And by “it” we mean apple cider, because out at Fenceline Cider in Mancos, you’ll find plenty of the good stuff. The new cidery is the latest addition to the Four Corners’ vibrant local brew scene, but in this case, the brewers are eschewing hops and barley, and are utilizing local fruit from the town’s 100-year-old apple trees instead. It’s an interesting niche – and a resourceful one for the farmers in Mancos. After all, orchards used to be one of the main agricultural businesses in Montezuma County, but today very few of the orchards are properly farmed. Perhaps with a little time, Fenceline will manage to change that.

“Orchards are a lot of work,” said Fenceline Cider and Outlier Cellars co-owner Neal Wight. 

Wight and his business partner, Sam Perry, are taking full advantage of the unused trees. The idea came about after Wight, whose background is in wines, made cider for a friend’s wedding. From there, Fenceline cider was born. 

When the transplants first landed in Mancos, they “just knocked on doors and met folks” to acquire apples for their recipes. They opted for the name Fenceline, a nod to the abundance and varieties of apple trees that grow along fences, due in part to birds perching on them and propagating seeds. When apple seeds are spread by birds, they will not share the original traits of the tree they came from. Consider the tree as the mother and the seeds as her children, each with their own individual traits, which are combined with the dad’s traits via pollenization. To grow a particular apple, you have to graft a young twig onto a living stump, but you can graft multiple varieties onto one stump, Wight said. 

Ciders, like wine, are dependent on the fruit. Fenceline’s ciders will differ from year to year based on the season, but you can count on the recipies to always be apple-forward, which results in the tart, crisp flavors. 

“We’re letting the apples speak for themselves,” Wight said. 

The cidery also offers rotating guest taps with unique cider blends, such as lemongrass, passionfruit, and cherry, which range wildly in their dryness and sweetness. The variations make it so there is something to enjoy in the bright, open tasting room. 

Jeremy Scott, a self-proclaimed “total apple nerd,” works in the cider lab that flanks the tasting room. In the “mad scientist” lab, as Scott calls it, you will find fermenters, brite tanks, large oak barrels, and plenty of other gear necessary to turn apples into cider. 

“All I care about is quality,” Scott said. 

A trained scientist and “PHD drop-out,” Scott got his early cider education working at Teal Cider in Delores. He later expanded that cider reportoire by experimenting on his own, which he continues to do at Fenceline. One area of the fermentation room is dedicated to testing out new recipes, and he can tell with one whiff of the experimental mini-batch – which smells like sulfery Pagosa Springs – that it’s no good. But the rest are odorless, which means the experiment continues. 

Scott blends dessert apples with true cider apples, crabapples, to create a flavor that suits their palate. Crabapples add a bitterness and tartness that is not found in dessert apples. Fenceline’s ciders are fermented cold and slow, which results in more interesting flavors. It’s quite unlike the sweet, alcohol-heavy flavors often found in mainstream bottled cider. 

More experimenting is happing outside of the cellar, too. Perry owns a young orchard on his ranch in Mancos where over 100 cider apples have been planted. Wight said the orchard will grow a variety of fruit characters they can test out in recipies the future. They are also growing apple varieties they find interesting for cider and that grow well in the area.

Wight said the plus side of working in Mancos is that the community has been receptive to Fenceline because of their connection to the apple trees. But there might be something else to it, too. Cider is the bridge between the beer and wine worlds in flavor and in spirit, with the sophistication and nuance of wine, but without the pretentiousness that might turn some people off. That easy-going attitude toward cider is part of why any and everyone will feel right at home on a Fenceline bar stool, frosty glass in hand.

The Durango Herald

Outlier Cellars opens tasting room in Mancos

Artisanal cider showcases region’s apple heritage

 

By Mj Carroll Special to the Herald

Inspired by Southwest Colorado’s historic orchard legacy, the region’s soil, water and climate and the art of craft cider from around the world, Sam Perry and Neal Wight, owners of Outlier Cellars, have opened a tasting room in Mancos, featuring their locally produced Fenceline cider. 

Fenceline cider is crafted from a blend of fruit from both Montezuma County and Animas Valley. Some of the fruit is grown on trees that are nearly 100 years old. Now available at their 12-tap tasting room in the heart of Mancos, several single varietal ciders, a reserve cider and a barrel-fermented cider are on draught, along with other ciders from Colorado, including Teal Cider from Dolores and Stem Cider from Denver. Wine and non-alcoholic sparking cider is also on tap.

The simple and refined rustic décor of the tasting room at Outlier Cellars presents a warm atmosphere, inviting locals and travelers to sip and learn a thing or two about craft cider. 

“We want to show people what craft cider is and how different our products are from the super sweet commercial varieties,” Perry said. “We want to be a connection point where people can taste and learn about cider, production practices, the orchards and local apple history.” 

With the goal of enlightening the people of Southwest Colorado to the taste of craft cider and its historical significance in the region, Fenceline hopes to become the go-to, gluten-free alternative cider option on tap across all local bars, restaurants and liquor store shelves in the area. 

The idea has been three years in the making, but it wasn’t until a year ago that Perry and Wight co-founded Outlier Cellars and began production of the cider. The partners leased the tasting room and production facility in Mancos beginning in September 2017. Outlier is on the banks of the Mancos River, across from Absolute Bakery. 

Perry says the outpouring of support from the local community has been helpful. The tasting room hours and location are prime for a Mancos local drinking hole, a place for tourists to unwind after a day at Mesa Verde or an après-ski, hike or bike spot for those passing through Mancos.

“Our vibe is Old West meets New West,” Perry said. “We welcome you to ride a bike or a horse to Outlier Cellars. It’s a place where everyone can come get a taste of the best of Montezuma County.”

With a vision that goes beyond cider, Outlier Cellars will eventually begin to produce wine and other craft alcohol products, all under separate brand names, like “Fenceline Cider,” to allow for creative development of the specific beverage. Outlier Cellars will also let farmers rent a portion of their facilities to ferment their own wine and cider products as a “custom crush” business. 

The cellar specializes in cold, slow fermentation techniques that allow the lighter, more delicate flavors to be preserved in the cider. These fermentations can last as long as four months, producing a blend of acid and tannin for a dryer, less sweet, higher-quality cider. 

The meaning behind the name “Fenceline” comes from a way apple trees can propagate. Most hand-planted orchards grow apples for eating but lack the acid and tannins for cider. However, when an apple tree sprouts naturally from a seed, it doesn’t always stay genetically true to the parent apple. These seeds are often found growing along a fence line, not planted by people but instead by birds resting on a fence line eating a ripe apple and propagating a new varietal of apple, best for cider.

The tasting room is available for public and private events. 

“Neal and I are both very interested in the natural world and hope to get a monthly lecture series going in the tasting room that centers around biology, geology, archaeology and botany. We also have a gallery space for art shows,” Perry said.

 

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The Durango Telegraph

 

How about 'dem apples

Outlier Cellars rolls out the barrel with new Mancos tap room

 

By Jennaye Derge

 

With hard cider becoming the gluten-free darling of the craft beverage crowd, the idea to start a cidery in Southwest Colorado seems ripe for the picking. Which is why Mancos residents, college buddies and apple connoisseurs, Sam Perry and Neal Wight, have decided to jump on the cider wagon. This weekend, with the grand opening of their Outlier Cellars taproom in Mancos, they become the second cidery (after Dolores’ Teal Cidery) to open in the area.

And it couldn’t come a moment too soon. According to the Neilsen Company and the U.S. Association of Cider Makers, craft cider consumption grew by a whopping 39 percent from 2015-16. Colorado leads the pack in that consumption as the state with the fastest-growing population of cider drinkers. In fact, craft cider sales in the state made up more than 20 percent of total cider sales in 2017 (for which we have millennials to mostly thank, lest you need to be told.)

But rest assured, these two did not just fall off the apple truck. They have been carefully curating apples and concocting ciders to share with friends for the past 31⁄2 years. However, as they tell it, their shared fascination with all things apple and fermenting stems all the way back to their college days, 18 years ago in Prescott, Ariz.

It was here that they met apple geneticist Kanin Routson, who would take Perry out on tree-grafting jaunts all over the Colorado Plateau and beyond. They would find heirloom trees and snip samples to clone in order to discover different varieties that were suited to various areas. These expeditions piqued Perry’s apple interests enough for him to move to Mancos and plant his own orchard.

As for Wight, you could say fermenting is in his blood. He grew up in California’s wine country with a family background in wine and vineyards.

In fact, the two admit stating the business was like destiny. But fate didn’t officially align until a wedding four years ago in Arizona. Routson, the apple geneticist, had whipped up a large batch of cider for guests. When Perry and Wight tasted it, the ideas began bubbling.

“It was awesome, and we just started to talk about it from that point on,” Perry said.

Curiously enough – or perhaps not, since both deal with fermented fruit – Outlier’s roots extend to Sutcliffe Vineyards, in nearby McElmo Canyon. Sutcliffe winemaker Joe Buckel assisted the duo with fermentations and recipes that helped create Outliers’ signature beverage, Fenceline Cider, made with apples from local heritage apples. Buckel, who was a previous partner in Outlier, has since moved on to other projects in the area, leaving Perry and Wight at the reigns of the now one-year-old Outlier Cellars.

The new taproom is located downtown next to the Mancos River in an old cabinet shop that had been sitting empty for about two years. The building is large enough to house tables, a large bar and the in-house fermentation tanks. Outside, there’s enough space for a patio, and plans call for food trucks to be rolling in 

come summertime for those who want to sip a cold one under blue skies.

The back room, though, is where the real alchemy happens. This is where Jarred Scott helps create the cider purely by trained palate.

“I like to identify the apples, find out what qualities they have and how they contribute to the cider,” he said.

But it’s a lot more complicated than just picking apples off trees and throwing them in tanks. It takes a special sort of cider-specific apple, much like wine-specific grapes, and a whole lot of trial and error.

Scott, who began fermenting four years ago at Teal Cider, said the owners there experimented all the time. Once, they made 18 separate batches at different temperatures and brought in friends to sample which tasted best. Generally speaking, wine and beer do better with warm fermentation because of the yeasts used and the faster pace of fermenting. But cider tends to be better with cold fermentation, which takes longer. After what had to have been a very fun taste test, their friends agreed – cold fermentation did indeed taste better. And with that conclusion, Outlier has also gone cold.

Teal Cider has been a close friend and partner to Outlier Cellars throughout their journey, helping the company open up as well as learn the ins and outs of fermentation. Through his experience with Teal, Scott became familiarize with the types and tastes of apples in the area. He said russet apples are the most popular, though he often blends different varieties in each recipe. Through his years of toiling over a (cold) vat, he has also gained an understanding of the chemistry of apples and how to find that perfect balance between acidity, sweetness and tannins.

“It’s been a hobby, mostly a passion and personal interest,” Scott said.

The requirements to ferment cider are few, besides having to obtain a very elusive winery license that Wight said was one of the more difficult things the company had to deal with. In all, it mostly takes time, passion and friends to help you along the way. Oh, and some stout livers. 

“Our backgrounds are in heavy drinking,” Perry joked.

In addition to cider, Outlier Cellars also makes a couple varieties of wine and there are even whispers of sake or other fruit fermentations in the future.

But for now, the taproom has plenty to offer with 12 taps open for ciders, including their flagship cider, Fenceline; reserve ciders made from special varietals; as well as rotating small-batch ciders. There will even be a few taps reserved for visiting ciders. The goal, Perry says, is to bring people into the taproom to try specialty ciders not available elsewhere.

“We hope to keep evolving and keep making better and better cider and put this place on the map as a national recognized cider region,” Perry said.

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The Cortez Journal

Outlier Cellars to hold grand opening in Mancos

Heritage apple cidery will open Saturday in Mancos

 

By Stephanie Alderton Journal Staff Writer

 

After years of planning, Mancos’ new cidery is ready to hold a grand opening on Saturday.

Three Montezuma County entrepreneurs leased a former motorcycle mechanic shop on Main Street last year, intending to turn it into Mancos’ newest cidery and tasting room. After receiving a state liquor license in January, Outlier Cellars is almost ready to open for business. The grand opening will start at 3 p.m. and feature local music and food along with the debut of Outlier’s Fenceline Hard Cider, made with Montezuma County heritage apples. 

Neal Wight and Sam Perry started experimenting with cider about three years ago, along with Sutcliffe Vineyards winemaker Joe Buckel, who has since left the company. Their Fenceline variety is a dry cider made from apples grown in Montezuma County’s heritage orchards and harvested in 2016. Outlier also will sell its varieties of wine and pear cider, as well as an oak barrel-aged reserve cider made with crabapple. Wight said he and Perry plan to regularly rotate new varieties through the tasting room, in addition to selling their Fenceline in local liquor stores.

Some Outlier cider is made with the Montezuma Valley Heritage Blend juice made by the Montezuma Orchard Restoration Project in 2016. According to a MORP news release, it was the first local apple juice shipped out of the county since Dolores’ Mountain Sun Juice plant closed. 

A late frost in 2017 hurt many Montezuma County apple producers, but Wight said it didn’t affect Outlier’s cider production because the company used apples harvested in 2016. He and Perry are looking for more local orchards to help with the next batch of cider, though.

“We’re starting to talk about the harvest already,” he said. “We’re definitely looking for different apples, looking to work with different people.”

Originally, Outlier’s owners planned to start selling their product by late October 2017, but Wight said getting their state liquor license took longer than expected. But the wait did give them time to transform their warehouse – like building into a customer-friendly bar. Now furnished with solid wooden tables and decorated with antlers and nature photos, the bar has a distinctly “outdoor” atmosphere, which is helped by a large, garage-style door that will stay open during warm weather. Wight said he’s most excited about the lighted patio, where customers can order drinks through a window on the tasting room and sit at a bar overlooking the Mancos River. 

“I think it’s going to be a great place to hang out in the summer,” he said.

Wight, Perry and local contractor Bradley Hoessle did most of the remodel work, using largely salvaged materials from around the Four Corners.

The cidery’s owners envision their company as a way to promote other Montezuma County businesses as well as their own cider. Outlier doesn’t have a license to sell food, but Wight said he hopes to have a local food truck outside the patio at least once a week. The Dolores-based catering company Sweetwater Gypsies will be serving pizza at the grand opening.

Perry said the company also plans to serve drinks from other local companies, like Teal Cider in Dolores.

“We have 12 taps, so we can sell any wine or cider made in Colorado,” he said.

During the grand opening, the store will sell hats and other merchandise bearing the Outlier Cellars logo. The Mancos rock band Afrobeatniks will provide live music throughout the evening, and Wight said it will be a family-friendly event. 

After the grand opening, the tasting room will be open for business Wednesday through Sunday.

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