I recently had the treat to open a bottle of Eden’s Juliette, the fascinating fifth entry of cider world maverick Eleanor Leger’s cellar series.
This impressive cider highlights the uniqueness of the St. Lawrence Valley, one of world’s great apple growing terroirs.
This bone-dry cider was made with a blend of rare St. Lawrence apples grown at Heath Orchard, Stanstead, Quebec. Eden’s 2015 blend was mostly made from Melba apples, which as orchard owner Chris Rawling explains, is a more common summer apple.
“It’s not a bad table apple either, but not very crunchy, as is the modern style,” Rawling told Upstate Eater.
Rawling grows a number of unique apples at his farm that has been in his family for about two centuries, including the Lawfam, a cross between the St. Lawrence and La Fameuse.
“It’s a very late fall apple that is typically quite small,” Rawling said of the Lawfam, adding that previous generations prized the apple for its high skin to flesh ratio, as they felt the increased presence of natural yeast made for a quick fermentation.
The apple is also a good table apple with distinctive notes of watermelon, pineapple and gooseberry.
The cider also has a touch of peach apple, or “La pomme peche.” As the legend goes, a peach apple tree grew inside a convent in downtown Montreal and people used to climb the convent walls to steal the apples. Rawling told Upstate Eater that the apples live up to their name, as long as you eat them when they’re nice and ripe.
These types of apples were once commonplace along the St. Lawrence and early pomological resources like Spencer Ambrose Beach’s 1905 Apples of New York mentions at length the quality of apples from the northern waterway not only for their taste, but their durability.
Nineteenth-century texts in French and English mention the following: St. Lawrence Red, Bourassa de Quebec, Pomme Grise de Montreal, Reinette du Canada and Fameuse apples.
Rhode Island Greening, Northern Spy, Baldwin, Duchess and Spitzenburg were also popular varieties in the latter half of the 19th century.
Unfortunately, top-down agricultural planning on the part of the Canadian government and a lack of commercial viability from the American government means many of these apples have now disappeared from commercial orchards.
With the exception of McIntosh apples, which rarely reach their true potential outside of the cool northern climate, these remarkable apples are now reserved as historical interests rather than viable crops. Rawling said his late-season macs “will convert many naysayers” and could make great cider if used in the right blend. This prolific apple is one the few testaments to the valley’s former diversity.
Leger, who co-founded Eden Specialty Cider in Vermont, told Upstate Eater that there are very few non-grocery store apple varieties grown commercially in Quebec now and many of the historical varieties are lost.
This story is not unique. Apple diversity around the world is in decline, so we rarely get a clearer picture into the past that we get with a cider like the Juliette.
In the glass this still cider is filed with bright aromatic herbs like tarragon behind fresh tons of freshly ripe pears and golden raspberry. The cider is aged for eight months in older chardonnay barrels that lend a rich mouthfeel without bringing flavors that get in the way of the fruit, gravel and mineral flavors.
Eden’s Juliette is a vision of the diversity that once existed and is possible again. Special ciders speak about a year, a place and a history.