Kristof Farms Orchard Cider CEO Caroline Kristof and Tux the puppy are eager to share her family’s new cider with the world. ##Photo by ADAM ELLIS HARPER

Apple Bonkers

Unexpected CEO delivers classic cider

By Michael Alberty

A newly-minted Harvard graduate on her way to study dream yoga in Nepal ends up making cider in Oregon. Wes Anderson couldn’t dream that story line up on his best day.

Caroline Kristof is the Harvard alum who traded lucid dreaming for fermentation. Hard apple cider lovers should be glad she did. Her debut vintage of Kristof Farms Orchard Cider is a nectarous beverage worth getting to know better.

Meet the Kristof Farms team: Caroline, her older brothers Geoffrey and Gregory, and their Pulitzer Prize-winning parents Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn. Jane Kristof, Caroline’s retired college professor grandmother, remains the reigning matriarch of the family’s 100-acre Yamhill County farm.

For decades, the Kristof family earned extra income by selling pie cherries to local fruit companies. When that market tanked in 2018, the family ripped out most of their orchard to make room for 20 acres of cider apple trees and a mix of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay vines.

The family’s new orchard is comprised of 12 apple varieties with exotic names that remind me of Newark hair metal bands (Chisel Jersey), scented British soap (Yarlington Mill) and the French national rugby team (Vilberie and Muscat de Bernay). The apples grow on both dwarf and semi-dwarf trees.       

 That’s pretty much the last we will hear from the other Kristofs, because as proud papa Nicholas recently told me, “If you have any other cider questions, you should talk with Caroline because she’s our CEO.”

A 24-year-old with a Harvard degree in history and literature, and zero previous experience, is not your typical cider CEO. Kristof’s career choice, however, was more a matter of circumstance than design.

Kristof Farms Orchard Cider

Kristof was finalizing her college graduation plans when the COVID-19 pandemic threw her a massive curveball. Instead of heading off to Nepal as part of Harvard’s post-grad traveling fellowship program, she was off to the family farm in Yamhill. That’s when she noticed her family’s cider project might require some help.

The dwarf trees were maturing earlier than expected, so instead of harvesting their first apples in 2021, approximately 1,000 pounds of apples would be ready to pick in the fall of 2020. According to Kristof, the cider project was about to “get real.”

Kristof also noticed her extremely busy parents couldn’t get around to all the tasks required of cider producers. “That’s when I really got involved with everything from irrigation to finances, branding and marketing,” Kristof said.

She ended up doing more than organizing spreadsheets, opening spigots and getting active on social media. Kristof helped pick the apples, followed by a pressing session with Geoffrey at Reverend Nat’s Hard Cider facility in Portland. That’s where owner Nat West pitched the yeast to ferment the juice, and the Kristof siblings bottled their first cider.     

The Kristof family’s Orchard Cider is a sight to behold in the glass. Its golden hue looks like a Sherwin Williams take on butternut squash. Then, with a slight swirl, the hard cider’s sediment springs into action to do its best hazy IPA impersonation.

The first sniff from the glass produces scents of fresh-baked bread, loam, chalk, rhubarb pie and apple pectin. It reminds me of an earthy cross between an extended skin-contact Pinot Gris aged in amphora and an apple crumble right out of the oven.

At 8.3% ABV, approach this 500-milliliter bottle as you would a wine. It is meant for reverent sipping as opposed to quaffing. Take your time savoring the way its tangy flavors of apples, toasted filberts, ginger and quince provide a sweet-tart sensation tiptoeing its way up to off-dry territory.

One of my favorite things about this dry hard cider is the brisk, tingly mouthfeel. It is as invigorating as having one of those skinny, 15-foot tall mutton-chopped dudes from “Yellow Submarine” drop a Granny Smith on your head.  

Look for the Kristof Farms Orchard Cider for $10 a bottle at Kookoolan Farms in Yamhill, Park & Main in Carlton and The Place in Portland. Unfortunately, this inaugural batch will likely be sold out by the time you read this column. That will happen when you can only squeeze 50 gallons of cider out of your 1,000 pounds of fruit.

The good news is the 2021 harvest at Kristof Farms yielded 9,000 pounds of cider apples. Those apples will be pressed and made into approximately 400 gallons of hard cider by industry veteran Christine Walter at Bauman’s Cider facility in Gervais.  

In a recent interview with the Oregon Wine Press, Nicholas Kristoff said, “We’d love for Yamhill to be known for great cider as well as great wine.”  With Caroline in charge, his family is well on its way to making that happen.


Web Design and Web Development by Buildable