It was “use it or lose it” when it came to water rights on Ann Torrence and Marc Roberts’ property near the Fremont River in Torrey, Utah. As they considered what to do with this precious desert resource, they visited Capitol Reef National Park during harvest season and were blown away by the flavors of the apples grown in the park’s historic orchards. So apples it was, and what to do with so many apples but make hand-crafted hard cider in the spirit of the Queen of the Wild Bunch, Etta Place.
When I asked Torrence about her prior orchard experience, she laughed and said, “I had never even planted a tree before.”
Torrence and Marc may seem like an unlikely duo for Utah’s latest craft alcohol producer. She spent her career as a writer and photographer and he is a retired neuroscientist, but once they started planting apple trees, they went all-in on learning everything there was about crafting hard cider.
When selecting their first trees, they found little guidance on what apple varieties do well at 7,000 feet, so they went a little wild experimenting, and now have over 80 different varieties in their orchards, none of which have familiar grocery-story variety names. Rather, there’s Cornish Gilliflower, Graniwinkle, Royal Limbertwig, and many other interestingly-named types of apples, and they’re surprised at how well the apples are doing in such a challenging climate.
Torrence says there is little talk of terroir, the special character of a place that gives produce its distinct flavor, but she’s sure they’re on to something special in Torrey.
Eight years after they planted their first apple trees, Torrence and Marc opened the Etta Place tasting room on April 15, 2021. It definitely wasn’t the dream grand opening they had planned, but it was only a small loss in a year of so many losses.
“COVID has given us an excuse to get the first batches right without feeling compelled to rush or cut corners,” said Torrence. “It’s one tiny plus in a very bad situation for everyone.”
I didn’t think I was a hard cider person until I sampled their trio of initial offerings. There’s Etta Place Dry Hard Cider, which is more reminiscent of a dry Sauvignon Blanc, Grand Circle Semi-dry Cider, a crisp blend of more than 50 different apple varieties, and the Stray Arrow Rose, a delightful crimson-colored cider made solely from Redfield Apples that are known for their dramatic red flesh.
As of right now, you can only purchase Etta Place Cider at their tasting room in Torrey or while dining at the Hunt & Gather restaurant down the street. They’re one permit shy of being able to offer tour and tasting packages, but very soon, these will be available by reservation on the website.
And it’s not just Etta Place that celebrates Utah’s heritage by using local ingredients in their offerings. SaltFire Brewing Co. in Salt Lake City brews their Mobius Trip, a sour ale made from Utah peaches. Hopkins Brewing Company features locally grown malt, and Toasted Barrel Brewery has been experimenting with backyard-grown hops and yeast cultivated around the brewer’s home.
I’m just waiting for someone to make a gin out of the brine shrimp in Great Salt Lake.
Etta Place Hard Cider 700 W UT-24, Torrey, Utah
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