Everyone goes to Napa, California for wine. And really, how could you not? It is wine country, after all. The vineyards are unbelievably beautiful and an almost endless assortment of wines to sample. But if you are like us, you will eventually tire of all the wine, or you may have gone to Napa for reasons other than wine (maybe a friend’s birthday, perhaps… or wanting to see Jack London’s house). In either case, a place called Denman Ranch in Penngrove, CA is the place for you! They’ve got some absolutely tasty beverages for tasting, and just as importantly, very friendly faces.
Acre and Spade Cider
The semi-dry ciders of Acre and Spade are a refreshing contrast to the majority of their competitors available on store shelves and restaurants across the US. Situated in a market where every brewer seems to be trying their hand at cider-making, Andrew Hoeberichts opted in April of 2017 to focus on the craft, as opposed to obtaining widespread distribution. These small batch ciders are made from West Coast apples and local ingredients, making for a great detour from the traditional trappings of Napa Valley.
I had the opportunity to try all of Acre and Spade’s offerings, including the Original (semi-dry), Semi-Dry Barrel Aged, Dry Raspberry, and Dry Hopped. These were all outstanding to taste, but the Barrel Aged was my favorite, as I’m partial to more traditional ciders.
All are available in draft (and by association, a branded Growler), while Semi-Dry Barrel Aged is also in 16oz cans.
Acre and Spade is active in the community, so check their Social Media and their website for upcoming events.
To me, nothing quite beats a crisp cold cider on a warm summer day, and Acre and Spade will definitely be a required stop the next time I’m up in that neck of the woods.
But first (!) what is the aperitif?
Aperitif (not to be mistaken for a digestif) is a drink meant to be served before a meal. Wikipedia describes it as being designed to encourage one’s appetite. However, Rena told us that it is also meant to enhance your ability to taste food. (This sensation is why I personally fell in love with the drink). Quite interestingly, aperitifs have been around long enough to have been referenced all the way back in the 5th century. At this time people considered it a pseudo-sinful drink due to the way it encouraged people to eat. In France in 1846, a particularly special and well guarded recipe was invented by a man trying to find ways to make a malaria drug palatable. His efforts worked so well that the drink became popular in his home country (even when malaria treatment wasn’t necessary).
While aperitifs can be a fairly wide range of alcoholic beverages, the most popular form is wine based. This is also what you will find at Denman Ranch. Vodka is a common alcohol used to fortify the wine. But in the case of the aperitif found at the Ranch, Ever Clear is the addition of choice. If this has you wondering how you will survive a drink of the stuff, aperitif is not meant to be gulped down in big glasses. Find you the tiniest goblet, and filled with a shot or less. This tasty, strong beverage is meant to be enjoyed in small doses. You won’t want to waste it anyway, as the flavor is nuanced. It’s something that you should savor.
What’s Special About Sonoma Aperitif
Sonoma Aperitif is run by a female entrepreneur who fairly recently acquired the recipes and vineyard source from the previous owners. When I sat down to talk to her, I had to think that the brand had found an amazing home. First, she has worked in the wine industry for years, running various aspects of the wine business and learning a ton along the way. That kind of expertise isn’t in everyone who gets their hands on a drink brand.
The other thing that struck me about Rena is her love for experimenting. While she is still selling the last of her old recipe now, she has primarily moved on to her own creations. These mix old with new and create unique flavors that you won’t find anywhere else. For instance, one aperitif flavor that we loved was Strawberry and Basil. This flavor dials back both the tartness and sugar of the original recipe. Using berries allows Rena to make an effective drink which speaks to the traditional, French notes. But it doesn’t necessitate loads of added sugar to counterbalance the sour lemon flavors of older recipes. Berries are, after all, naturally balanced between sour and sweet flavors. The basil also adds a very nice herbal expression to the drink. The charm and innovation in this particular flavor carries over into her other creations as well.
Finally, Rena is just an amazingly friendly and genuine person. When I talked to her, I enjoyed her commitment to a more natural flavor, as well as her love for bees. (I formerly worked in a social insect lab studying bee behavior). In any case, if you are looking to learn more about aperitifs and want to get out of the wine-grind in Napa, give Sonoma Aperitif a visit. I would be surprised if you were disappointed.
Interested in exploring more of Napa Valley? Be sure to come back next week for our comprehensive guide to the great outdoors and all things non-wine related.