By Gina Malone | Photos by Pat Barcas
When it comes to bidding goodbye to summer and welcoming autumn with its bushel baskets of apples, Western North Carolina has two festivals that draw crowds and serve up the bounty of the season in many delectable ways—Hendersonville’s longrunning North Carolina Apple Festival and Asheville’s fastgrowing CiderFest NC.
The NC Apple Festival, with its “Healthy Harvest” theme this year, will be held on Labor Day weekend, Friday, September 1, through Monday, September 4, in downtown Hendersonville. “Even though we are one of the largest festivals in North Carolina,” says festival executive director David Nicholson, “we still see ourselves as a community event.” Quality of vendors and entertainers is a big focus for the 71-year-old festival, he adds. “And we don’t allow any alcoholic beverages. I always say you can bring your grandchildren or grandparents to our festival.”
Last year, over its four-day run, the event, which recognizes Henderson County’s importance as the top apple-growing area in the state, attracted 275,000 visitors to its street fair with music, arts and crafts and food. A Kiddie Carnival, parade, recipe contest and orchard tours are among the weekend’s events.
Festival planners commissioned a study two years ago, Nicholson said. “We were not surprised to learn that, outside of the street fair, the economic impact on the community is more than $12 million.”
On a smaller scale, but growing by leaps and bounds, is CiderFest NC, which will hold its fifth annual festival on Saturday, October 7, from noon to 5 p.m. at Salvage Station on the French Broad River. The largest annual fundraiser for the Western North Carolina Green Building Council, this festival has seen phenomenal growth—tripling its attendance since its inception and selling out in recent years.
Among the purveyors of hard cider, mead, apple wine and artisanal food is Urban Orchard Cider Co., which opened in 2013 as North Carolina’s first cider bar and has been part of the festival since its planning days. “The continuing growth of this event,” says marketing and creative director Jeff Anderson, “translates directly to the growth our industry is experiencing as a whole.”
Besides providing tastings of their flagship ciders, Anderson says, Urban Orchard gets to introduce ciders that satisfy the desire for variety. “The more interesting of our arsenal this year will be Cidra Nu, which has been created using a Belgian Lambic yeast, bottle conditioned (carbonated inside the bottle) and has aged in the bottle for more than two-and-a-half years. It will be tough to find a cider like this one anywhere else.”
Artisanal foods are also part of the offerings and Katie Moore, executive director of the WNC Cheese Trail, sets up at the festival with three or four cheese makers who, she says, “get a chance to talk with folks they might not normally meet. We also get to taste lots of interesting ciders and see how that industry is growing.”
A collaborative effort, the WNC Cheese Trail creates opportunities for small businesses and local dairies. “The folks who come to our booth,” Moore says, “are curious and interested in pairing cheese with cider, which is an excellent way to enjoy both products.”
The festival includes arts and crafts, live music and an interactive children’s area with hands-on green living activities and eco-friendly crafts.
For tickets and information about CiderFest NC, visit ciderfestnc.com. Early ticket purchases are encouraged. VIT (Very Important Taster) tickets are a new addition this year. The Salvage Station is located at 466 Riverside Drive in Asheville. To learn more about the North Carolina Apple Festival in Hendersonville, a free event, visit ncapplefestival.org.