When Wes Mickel moved to Austin in 2009, no one was attempting to make a hard cider from local apples. “Classically, cider is made from cider apples, which are something that you’d never cut up and put on a cheese plate,” Mickel explains. “Here in Texas, the fruit that we get is extremely sweet… they don’t have any tannins.” Mickel’s desire then, to use the local Texas apples would require the use of his mainly self-taught wine knowledge (consisting of UC Davis enology course materials and much trial and error) to develop a style of cider-making distinctly his own. Argus Cidery was born.
“We really are making wines.”
“We take a different approach than your traditional cider fermentation,” says Mickel. “That’s why we employ a whole catalog of yeast strains. Each one is adding basically another layer of flavor.” The resulting cider is unlike most on the market: super dry with a crisp apple finish and the fine bubbles of a champagne. “We really are making wines,” says Mickel. “That was the whole inception of the company: let’s take apples, treat them like grapes, give them their time, and try to make something that’s really fruit-driven and special.”
Each bottle of Argus cider is indeed special. When the company first launched in April 2010, they were only producing about 50 cases of each varietal, which flew off shelves in no time. This year, Mickel and business partner Jules Peterson made 1000 cases and, with the addition of 20 more New American Oak barrels and stainless steel tanks, estimate they will double their production in the next year. “We just bought 40,000 pounds of apples which is only about half of what we go through in a year!” says Mickel.
This past spring, they opened a tasting room, open to the public by reservation each Saturday. Visitors can enjoy pours of their sparkling varietals, as well as several still ciders not yet sold in stores. The beautifully rustic Hill Country space, designed by Lillianne Steckle and actualized by Mickel and Peterson, features a long, vintage mirror scrawled with cider varietals, a cluster of Edison lightbulbs suspended from the ceiling, tabletop succulents, pops of Red Delicious color, and a phonograph record player.
Guests who visit the tasting room can choose to accompany their cider with a selection of hand-picked cheese.
Guests who visit the tasting room can choose to accompany their cider with a selection of hand-picked cheese. A recent board featured Brazos Valley Cheese clothbound aged white cheddar and Eden, a triple cream brie wrapped in fig leaves, hiding a thin line of vegetable ash through its center. Almonds and pear slices served as perfect palate cleansers between cheese bites and cider samples.
However, Mickel points out that it’s hard to go wrong when pairing cider with a meal. “It’s just like pairing with a white wine,” he says. “It’s just as assertive as a white wine, but at the same time it has that nice, round flavor so it’s really pairable.” The Idalou Brut currently in stores would be a welcome addition to any holiday table. (But Mickel says his favorite way to enjoy the bright, lightly effervescent brew is with briny oysters on the half shell.)
Exciting developments are on the horizon for Argus Cidery as they continue to grow and expand. This winter they will bottle their first still cider, Medina Idalou Cuvee. “We always wanted to do that, from day one, and we just knew that the sparkling wines were going to be a better market entry,” explains Mickel. “There are pretty much no still apple wines out there, so it was kind of scary for us to come out of the gates with that. But now that it’s been three years, we’ve experimented enough to know the market we’ve been working with– what people like and what they don’t.”
Wes’ favorite way to enjoy the Idalou Brut is with briny oysters on the half shell.
They will also be rolling out several aperitifs as well as a brand new line of fermentables no one else is making, starting with a pineapple cider called tepache. Traditionally made with the flesh and rind of the fruit, as well as brown sugar and cinnamon, tepache can be found throughout Mexico but Argus will be the first American company to brew it. They are also in the midst of developing an agave-based ginger product, though first looking for someone who grows edible ginger locally and organically.
But Mickel knows these details will work themselves out all in good time. As someone who ages his ciders for 9 months to two years, he knows the value of practicing patience. “We’re going after the best fruit we can find, and letting the fruit do whatever it does,” explains Mickel. “We don’t force this, We don’t try to push it out as soon as we possibly can. We just let it do its thing. And when it’s ready, it’s ready.”
12345 Pauls Valley Road
Austin, TX 78737
Tastings reservations are available from noon – 4pm on Saturdays. $10/person. Close at 6pm.
This article originally published in The Gather Issue of Citygram Austin Magazine [December 2013].
Explore the full issue on your desktop here or download the FREE mobile issue designed specifically for your iPhone or iPad in the App Store today.
Food & Beverage Columnist
Veronica Meewes is a freelance writer and photographer in Austin, TX.
Specializing in lifestyle, travel and food her work has appeared in several outlets including Forbes Travel Guide, Serious Eats, and The Today Show.
Veronica spent her childhood in New Jersey, and traveled around the country before deciding on the sunny capital of Texas.
Photography: Kelly Rucker