Most wine sellers know the maxim "buy on an apple, sell on cheese." As Hugh Johnson explains in his memoir, A Life Uncorked, "An apple is a cold appraiser of a wine's constitution. No wine tastes best with an apple, and bad wines taste miserable."
But British Columbia's largest private fruit packer is now making the case for pairing wine with apples, hoping to dislodge from grocery shoppers' minds the common belief that apples are just for lunchboxes. JIND, which harvests 1300 acres of fruit in the Okanagan Valley, recently served as a major sponsor of a food-and-wine festival in Whistler, treating guests to its vision of adult-oriented apple-eating.
"What we're aiming for is not the supermarket shopper who buys apples in quantity," JIND spokesman Darren Darcy says. "We're trying to make JIND more of a lifestyle brand."
At a pair of wine tasting galas, JIND representatives served slices of Golden Delicious apples topped with cilantro and fig alongside a Cabernet Sauvignon, and pressed McIntosh apples slathered with dulce de leche and sea salt on sparkling wine drinkers. A woman costumed in an apple peel dress sashayed around the convention hall, distributing PLU stickers reading "juicy," "yummy" and "sweet."
"Towards the ends of evenings, the stickers were ending up applied to some questionable locations," reports a very pleased Darcy.
Both north and south of the border, the apple's reputation has sagged while the wine industry has surged. "Visit eastern Washington for the apples? So passé," AAA's magazine admonished readers this summer. "Go for the chardonnays, rieslings, and merlots." The Via story chronicled satisfied grape growers who ripped up apple trees to plant their vineyards and converted former apple packing sheds into tasting rooms.
There's little economic incentive to keep up an apple orchard: Per-capita apple consumption in the U.S. has fallen by 16 percent over the past 20 years. According to Good Fruit Grower, an industry publication, "Despite all the advice people are given about eating more fresh fruits and vegetables, total demand for apples is not growing."
But JIND's owner, Jesse Sandhu -- who earlier this year gave up on a career as a hedge fund manager to take over his family's business - believes the region's apples can secure a new audience if they complement wine, rather than try to compete with it. Palates honed for wine-drinking should be able to appreciate the sophistication and terroir of a Pacific Northwest apple, Darcy says. Instead of citing apples' suitability for snack time, he points to the smoked black cod and gala apple chowder a Four Seasons Hotel Vancouver chef last week created for a citywide chowder competition: It took the "best chowder and beer pairing" prize.
"We're reaping the rewards so far," he says. "It's bloody hard to tell with an apple, but we're seeing a bit of a lift."