Behind the Bottle:
Red Jacket Orchards Apricot Stomp
By Amelia Sauter
Red Jacket Orchards juice couldn’t taste fresher if you stole the fruit off the tree and squeezed it yourself. Alongside blends like Strawberry Apple and Grape Apple, you’ll find the intriguing Apricot Stomp. Brian Nicholson, Red Jacket’s President and CEO, fills us in on the apricot’s heyday in the Finger Lakes.
Amelia Sauter: I read that Red Jacket is the largest apricot grower east of the Rockies. That sounds so cool.
Brian Nicholson: It IS cool! Actually, it is the apricots that put us on the map. They have been highlighted in both Gourmet Magazine and the New York Times. If you’ve got lemons, you make lemonade. We had apricots, so we made Apricot Stomp.
AS: Red Jacket is family-run, but it’s not some tiny family farm.
BN: We’ve been here 55 years—my grandfather started making cider in 1958—and we just keep adding a little on as we go. My father is a prolific planter. We grow over 600 acres of fruit: 450 acres of apples, and the rest is stone fruit. And I’m not doing justice to the rhubarb, strawberries, raspberries and all that.
AS: Is the Apricot Stomp made in a different way than your other juices? Do you stomp it?
BN: The consumer will be happy to know we do not stomp it in the traditional sense like grapes, with
bare feet and a mug of punch in our hands. But I did create that name because it reminded me that we’re in wine country. I was trying to come up with a name to say how the Apricot Stomp was different from our other blends: more raw, more fruit.
AS: Your fresh juices are available year round. Do you supplement from other sources or do you have a way of storing the fruit?
BN: We do a little bit of both. Apricots aren’t like green beans—you can’t freeze an apricot and then pull it out of the freezer and eat it like a fresh fruit. But you can freeze apricots and then puree them. It’s pretty amazing. Freezing fruit is a wonderful way to spread out the season.
AS: Can you describe the rack and cloth method you use to press fruit?
BN: You know those medieval racks you see in movies? It’s kind of like that.
AS: That sounds uncomfortable.
BN: (Laughs) Trust me, it is! It’s 200 pounds of pressure per square inch. I remember my grandfather’s original press, and nothing has really changed. You create ‘pancakes’ of smashed fruit in between the racks and squeeze it. You know cheesecloth? We have cider cloth. The juice squeezes out of the cloth and gets caught in a tray and pumped into a tank. With the original press, you used to open up the blankets and shake them out by hand.
AS: What is the hardest part about making this stuff today?
BN: Its biggest enemies are yeast and mold. Producing it in a very clean environment is important. I’ll never forget when a woman wrote and said that we painted her kitchen ‘strawberry.’ In 2010 we completed our new juice facility which is LEED certified and has all of the modern food safety and cleaning capabilities that are required to make a product of this level.
AS: I love Red Jacket Mimosas.
BN: If you serve them for a breakfast or special event, people have usually never had anything like it. Grab a nice bottle of local bubbly wine and Apricot Stomp, and you’ve got a super lo- cal cocktail. With the apricot, I also like gin and soda water.
AS: I’d love to get my hands on some of your drink recipes.
BN: We actually have a Red Jacket Orchard cookbook called Fruitful, and there’s a section dedicated to making cocktails and do-it yourself juicing. It’s an exciting project because we have a lot of famous chefs from NYC and the local Red Dove Tavern [in Geneva] contributing recipes.
AS: How are you related to Mark Nicholson, the company’s Executive Vice President? You look so similar I can’t tell you apart.
BN: We’re identical twins. You’re talking to the better-looking one.
Amelia Sauter is the co-owner of Felicia’s Atomic Lounge in Ithaca. She writes for several regional publications and blogs at drinkmywords.com.
A version of this article originally appeared in our Summer 2013 issue.