APPLEGATE — Kiss of cold air aside, the unexpected aroma of ripening fruit momentarily banishes thoughts of winter.
Fifteen tons of Red Delicious, Granny Smith and McIntosh apples sweeten the cold-storage building's atmosphere as they await their transformation into Thompson Creek Organics apple cider.
"The aromatics from the fruit is just incredible," says orchardist Blair Smith.
More of that pure apple flavor comes through in the certified organic cider since Thompson Creek Organics initiated an ultraviolet pasteurization process about a month ago. Born out of necessity, the new method is one Smith and his business partners tout for leaving beneficial apple enzymes intact.
"It would be more like raw juice," says Smith's mother-in-law and part-owner Patty Seereiter.
It's a taste sensation the fruit grower couldn't achieve by sending apples over the past five years to Pyramid Juice for pressing. When Ashland-based Pyramid went out of business last fall, Thompson Creek Organics was left without a way to turn more than 50 tons of apples into cider.
"They let us know they were going out of business as we were having our biggest harvest ever," Smith says.
So the family-owned company decided to assemble its own equipment, gain certification as an organic processor and keep the entire operation in-house. Already behind the curve for this season, Thompson Creek Organics couldn't fulfill grocery-store orders for a few months and was forced to sell about 60,000 pounds of cider-grade fruit to a Willamette Valley competitor.
When the cider reemerged, treated with ultraviolet light instead of heat, Thompson Creek Organics owners were convinced they had a beverage superior to the original. Plans for more juice blends stand to diversify the company's product range.
In response to their own flavor preferences and a current trend in food marketing, Thompson Creek Organics is on its way to producing specific varietal ciders, such as pure Red Delicious, Granny Smith or McIntosh, instead of only one blend.
"I like the straight Granny," Smith says.
Consumers increasingly want to know specific varieties of ingredients or breeds of animals they're consuming, The Associated Press reported in December. Cider fans will start seeing varietal pressings this summer when the company's stall opens at local farmers markets, where they also sell fresh apples, Smith says.
In an arrangement similar to those seen at some local wineries, Thompson Creek Organics also is looking for "custom-crush" clients, having already fielded interest from several other local orchards. It's a logical move, Smith says, since his is now the only local juice processor.
Developing their own alternative blends like cranberry-apple or apple-cherry juices could be in store, as well, Smith says. However, the original blend of Granny Smith and Red Delicious likely will remain the standard in stores to keep loyal customers happy, he adds.
Thompson Creek Organics cider is sold at Medford's Food 4 Less, Talent's Tark's Market, Grants Pass' Gooseberries and Ashland Food Co-op and Shop 'N' Kart in Ashland. Ashland restaurants Grilla Bites, Happy Falafel and Standing Stone Brewing Co. feature the cider on their menus.
Smith notes that Thompson Creek Organics has a multi-faceted commitment to the environment. Processing and delivering its cider locally results in a smaller carbon footprint compared with companies producing a similar product, he says.
Since purchasing the 7-acre organic orchard off Thompson Creek Road, Smith, his wife Marcey, Seereiter and partner Angie Villarreal have tripled the 30-year-old trees' yield and converted the company's energy consumption to renewable power from Pacific Power's Blue Sky program.
"We grow the apples, produce the cider and deliver it directly to the customer," Smith says.
Reach reporter Sarah Lemon at 776-4487, or e-mail email@example.com.