Each of these winners are changing Austin’s food landscape in unique ways, and the grants will help them fund new projects and initiatives that will bolster Austin’s vibrant food community. Last week we showcased Tecolote Farm and their hopes of not only extending their CSA program’s reach to those in need, but also of raising endangered heritage-breed hogs.
Today we check in with Argus Cidery’s Wesley Mickel for a peek into his plans to develop and test the state’s first organic apple orchard.
Argus Cidery is the first American Hard Cider crafted in Texas from apples produced by Texan growers. How did you decide to create cider?
We decided on apples because the growers here in Texas had such amazing fruit. With the great fruit, wonderful wines were conceptually much easier to produce.
What inspired you to want to start the state’s first organic orchard?
The test orchard uses organic practices, but certification won’t be possible until after the testing phase (a four plus year project) proves successful. The inspiration for going organic is simply the exploration of the possibility to do something no one else has succeeded at doing.
It has been tried, but with the grant money and actually having the ability to test certain methods, we hope to develop techniques and principles for our zone/region. Due to our space constraints, this is only a test orchard. We’ll stay organic for as long as we can, and we feel strongly that we can achieve that goal.
Any particular love stories with apple varieties that you just had to grow for yourself here in Texas?
We’re most excited about Pink Pearls and Wickersons. I remember the surprise I got when I pulled one [Pink Pearl] off the tree, bit into it, and it was pink inside. You can find those trees at the Greystone campus in St. Helena (where I attended culinary school in CA). Wickerson apples are just awesome. We’re also testing a whole bunch of southern heirlooms, particularly those that trace back to Arkansas, my home state.
How will you integrate the test orchard into the local food community?
Our test orchard is out at the winery. We’ll start with 22 varieties of rootstocks potted with different native soil blends, amended in the ways that our local growers suggest. They all have different opinions, so we’re trying everything since they all have great fruit.
We look forward to having apples for restaurants (granted we’re lucky enough to succeed in year one). I think some of our local chefs would be excited to get their hands on French heirlooms like Ceville Blancs. Also, we want our guests at the cider house to be able to take apples home for the family.
What do you usually recommend for people unfamiliar with cider?
Well, the Lady Goldsmith of course. Ask yourself if you like sweet or dry wines, and apply that to how you choose your cider. Go to a knowledgable store, like Whip-In, and let them know that when asking about different ciders.
Cider might be one of the most forgiving beverages to pair with, so drink it with something you love to eat. And cook with it. It’s a great sub for a recipe that calls for a dry white wine.
When not mixing up “Texas bubbly” and mapping out organic orchards, where do you unwind around Austin?
Within about seven miles of my house are some of the best places where I love to eat. In geographic order, Lucy’s for a bucket o’ chicken and beers, Magnolia for late night grub, Perla’s for patio cocktails and oysters, Elizabeth Street for any occasion, Polvos for awesome Mexican, and of course Whip-In for great beer and good eats.
I would say overall, I could eat at Olivia anytime; it’s perhaps my favorite. Austin has so many good places to go, it just so happens that everything in my neighborhood is so great that we don’t venture out of our radius too much!
“With the grant money and actually having the ability to test certain methods, we hope to develop techniques and principles for our zone/region.”