Despite the assistance of Google Maps, my trek to Point Richmond’s Far West Cider was one fraught with doubt. Twisting and turning my way from the 580 toward the bay, driving between the enormous docked tankers and brand new cars being offloaded from Japan, I was certain that the folks at Google had dropped the ball, until, sure enough, I wound my way down to the end of the line — the Riggers Loft — a building right on the water, among the ships, that houses a number of urban wineries (Carica Wines, Irish Monkey Cellars, R&B Cellars and Barrel and Ink Wines) and my destination, Far West Cider.
As I meandered through the somewhat large, rustically handsome facility, the first thing I noticed was the drum kit to my right, the taps, bottles and glassware at the numerous bars in the room and the brilliant view from just about any point in the space. I immediately thought that if the ciders were any good, that I would have to come back. The space feels special.
I found Far West proprietor and cidermaker, Adam Chinchiolo working on a vat of hopped cider, due for release in the coming months. He gave me a quick tour around the facility. Immediately, I knew two things: 1) this man loves what he does and 2) this is as close to DIY as an official business can be. He laughed as he showed me his homemade, yet effective pasteurization setup and the unromantic, yet thoroughly efficient plastic containers for aging cider — a stark contrast to the centuries old oak barrels one imagines in the old cideries. He pointed to his van, which is the sole delivery vehicle for the paltry 4,000 to 5,000 cases of cider he annually produces. Yet despite the small scale, the self-deprecation and humor, he clearly knows his craft.
Chinchiolo is not new to the apple game. His family farm in San Joaquin County, Chinchiolo Family Farms, has been operating for around 90 years, with a focus on apples and cherries for the last 40. He was working happily as an ad executive in San Francisco for around nine years, but always with a home-brewing operation in his garage. When the brew operation grew to the point that his car almost couldn’t fit in the garage any longer, Chinchiolo began to realize that his longtime hobby had grown into something much more significant.
Before leaving his career for a lark in the cider game, he took some classes from UK cider legend, Peter Mitchell. He tinkered in his garage until the ciders were right, then gave notice at his firm, AQKA, and took to putting together the pieces of his commercial operation. The Far West Cider facility opened in Richmond in 2016.
Crazy though it may sound to abandon a successful position in advertising to pursue a passion in cider, it’s important to note that the idea hardly came out of left field. Every apple farm, and particularly organic apple farms like Chinchiolo Family Farms, deals with the issue of perfectly delicious apples that are generally unsalable, due to cosmetic blemishes. This represents a significant amount of waste for the farms. A cidery is a great way to use good apples that few want to sell. So really, starting Far West was a way to work in the family business, while doing exactly what he wants to do.
I made my way to the bar and tasted through five ciders, beginning with “Proper Dry.” This clean, dry and exceptionally pure cider was an ideal introduction to the lineup, as it illustrates perfectly what Chinchiolo is aiming for — food-oriented ciders that really belong on the table, even next to good wines. It came as no surprise that this bottling is available at San Francisco restaurants State Bird Provisions, the Progress and Mister Jiu’s.
Next, I tried the keg conditioned cider, ingeniously named “Keg Conditioned,” which, unlike most of the other ciders in the lineup, goes through a proper secondary fermentation, which is the traditional means by which to carbonate a beverage, as opposed to CO2 injection. This cider was predictably more complex, funkier, richer and no less pleasant than the previous pour.
“Orchard Blend #1,” Far West’s top seller, has a little added sugar, and sees a little malolactic fermentation, which makes for a rounder, fleshier profile. The cider is round and mouth-filling. It’s a little sweet from the sugar ,though not cloying. It is easy to see why it’s so popular, as it is a fine introductory beverage, for the uninitiated, or simply a sweet little “quaffer” for those so inclined.
“Rustico” is easily Far West’s most far-out offering, and certainly my favorite of the bunch. With no added sulfur (a preservative that can “clean up” dirty flavors but can also render a beverage sterile and boring) and a little bit of residual apple sugar, the cider’s inherent funk is balanced out kind of perfectly by the slight sweetness and fresh acidity. It possesses a great, silky texture and the finish is long and reasonably complex. A fun direction he’s headed in.
As he poured his last offering, his guava-infused cider, Chinchiolo said with a laugh, “It’s called ‘You’ve Guava Be Kidding Me.’ Yeah… I went there.” This cider came about almost by accident, at Cider Summit SF, when a guava purveyor offered him some fruit to try as an adjunct, just for the event. People loved it, so he’s kept it in the repertoire. While unexpected, the cider is balanced, not cloying and makes sense in the lineup.
Unsurprisingly, Far West won a 2017 Good Food Award and, just before the writing of this article, was named a finalist for yet another for 2018. Far West ciders are available only in the Bay Area and Central Valley.
Following our tasting, I immediately quipped that I’d have to come back to the Far West tasting room with my wife to show her the space and his ciders. Next time, I’d actually drink — not spit — more cider and enjoy this room properly.
Collin Casey has worked in the wine business his entire adult life, including 11 years as a sommelier. He lives in Oakland.