Vulcain Cider

The first taste of a Vulcain cider will usually cause disbelief. They are so… pretty! And so different.

Dry to moderately sweet, with a discreet salty finish, the different blends or individual varieties speak so clearly yet so delicately —watercolors, not oil paintings. Essentially, these ciders are unmistakably Alpine: at their core is transparency, levity, and altitude; the same cool wind that runs through most Alpine wines; the freshness of a mountain stream, the child of snow.

Jacques Perritaz is a ruggedly handsome forty-something year old who could easily play the part of the outdoorsy love interest in an ecological doomsday movie. And he doesn’t just look the part: until his cidrerie took off, he was a biologist working for the Swiss government on the preservation of natural habitats.

He also kept as a side-project a herd of twenty endangered Swiss goats (chèvres bottées), that he rented out to clear brush from isolated pastures (chèvres débrousailleuses). This ended abruptly one winter night when all the goats vanished. Wolves? Some thought as much. The following spring after the snow melted, Jacques found several goat skulls. But they were scattered over miles whereas wolves don’t take their food to go, they leave what they don’t eat right there on the scene of the slaughter. The sudden disappearance of Jacques’ goats remains an unsolved, sinister mystery.

Jacques lives in Le Mouret, a small village south of Fribourg on the fringes of “La” Gruyère, the Swiss region where “le” Gruyère cheese and the best cream in the world are made. Wolves aside, it is idyllic. Perched high in the pastures, under pine trees and the snow-capped Alps, isolated chalets watch over black and white Fribourgeoises cows munching lazily on grass and buttercups. It would not come as a surprise if several of the girls in Le Mouret were named Heidi.

Since we’re on the subject of mythological children, traveling through Switzerland feels very much as if you were Dorothy or Alice or those kids in Narnia: suddenly transported to a strange world —in this case, a never ending succession of landscape postcards, so improbably beautiful they look neoclassical, painted by Maxfield Parrish.

The Swiss are very concerned with the preservation of their country’s splendid landscapes. At the outset of his biology studies, Jacques found steady freelance work with the government, studying and reporting on the management and preservation of natural habitats, eventually specializing in rare native plants. As fulfilling as this kind of work sounds, Jacques spent a lot of time at his computer typing away at reports. He grew bored and antsy. The goats had provided a first step towards emancipation but he also toyed with the idea of making wine, so he completed short internships with several Swiss wineries.

But during his missions, Jacques had frequently spotted neglected apple and pear trees; he had looked into them. They were one or two hundred year-old trees from ancient cider varieties. Sometimes they grew in tiny orchards but more often they were just scattered, two or three at a time, in pastures. They were remnants of a bygone polyculture, when farmers could make extra income by also using their pastures to grow fruit trees and sell their produce to a once thriving local cider industry.

Now, at harvest time, the fruit was left to fall on the ground. Jacques felt bad for the trees. If someone didn’t find something to do with the fruit, these ancient selections were bound to disappear. So, in 2000, he knocked on doors closest to some of the trees he has spotted, found their owners, and asked if he could harvest their fruit. This was not a problem. The owners had no use for them. The fruit secured, Jacques bought a small press and a few tanks, and made his first cider. Over the subsequent five years, his cider production grew to about 250 cases annually — not a career but an increasingly invasive hobby, yet Jacques was convinced there was a possibility of making ciders as interesting as good wine, and that there was a market for them, somewhere.