The story behind Gowan’s Heirloom Cider goes back over 100 years, so when they use the term “heirloom,” they mean it. The Gowan family, Don, Sharon and son Jacob – and their apple trees – are rooted in California.
But the family didn’t start out with apples. Don Gowan’s great grandfather had a lumber mill on the California coast, but after a storm sank a shipload of their lumber, they took up farming in the small coastal town of Shelter Cove. In 1902 they moved, by horseback and wagon, over the coast range to the Anderson Valley, a three-day trip. “My grandfather was a boy, and his job was to milk the family’s cows morning and evening each day,” Don relates.
From Philo, in the Anderson Valley, Don’s great grandfather would fill a wagon with apples and drive his six-horse team over the ridge to the coast. In the town of Mendocino, he boarded four of them in a livery stable and then drove the wagon up and down the coast selling apples along the way.
Back at the ranch in Philo, “my grandmother put boxes of apples against the fence under a big oak tree near the road. On the honor system, people paid 50 cents for 20 pounds of apples. That oak tree is still there, and that’s why our farm stand is called Gowan’s Oak Tree.”
“In 1947, my grandfather bought a brand new Dodge pick-up for deliveries with all the bells and whistles—it had a heater,” Don laughs.
On the maternal side of the family, the Studebakers came over Donner Pass and eventually bought apple orchards in Philo, where they were neighbors of the Gowans. A Gowan married a Studebaker, Don’s grandparents, and they had 5 children, the youngest being James, Don’s father.
During WWII James was a gunnery sergeant stationed in New Mexico. There he met Don’s mother Josephine, then a nursing student, married and moved back to the Anderson Valley of California.
Fast forward to the next steps. Cider makers and distillers began seeking out Gowan’s premium fruit. Don, and later Sharon and Jacob, took a course in cider-making, and in 2014 the Gowan’s started selling their own cider.
“Premium fruit-forward cider begins in the orchard with the best apples and growing conditions. Over these 143 years we’ve have been able to learn which trees pair well with our terroir for the very best flavor. So based on the research handed down through 6 generations, we can make applewine cider by simply allowing the natural flavor of this fruit to shine.”
The sole focus for Gowan’s Heirloom Ciders is flavor. The apple variety, where it is grown in their orchards, and the growing methods, rootstock, all contribute to unique attributes like flavor, aromatics, and body. Over decades, they have experimented to find the combinations that produce the best and most distinctive straight-from-the-orchard flavors.
“We’re close enough to the ocean to benefit from its moderating influence. Warms days and cool nights extend the ripening of the apples, so we have a very long growing season, and this adds to the flavor development.”
Sharon explains that Gowan’s is an estate cider producer certified as producing “Real California Cider,” using 100% California apples, which is very rare. Fewer than ten cideries in California have taken the step to become certified. Gowan’s orchards are also certified organic. And the cider is Vegan, Gluten-free, Non GMO.
“Our apples are grown especially for cider, pressed, fermented, and the cider is bottled right here, so this is truly a farm-to-table estate cider, from our family to yours.”