Member Spotlight: Blue Ridge Hops
Blue Ridge Hops is a small family farm, located in the mountains of Western North Carolina, where spectacular long-range views surround the hop yard. Owners John Wright and Rita Pelczar have been growing organic hops since 2008. We gained organic certification in 2009, and joined AOHGA in 2010 because we wanted to help promote the production and use of organic hops.
Establishing the hop yard presented several challenges, not the least of which was the terrain—there was no level land, so our hop yard was sited it on a high meadow with a 30 degree slope. A low trellis system, using farm harvested black locust for posts, was constructed to facilitate harvesting the crop in situ, without cutting down the bines. Whereas most large growers harvest their crop all at once, often with machines, we harvest by hand, over several weeks, selecting cones as they reach their peak maturity leaving younger cones to continue to develop. While this is labor intensive, it maximizes production of quality cones.
Another challenge was finding good information about growing hops in the Southeast, where until recently, little commercial hops has been produced. For the past three years we have worked closely with North Carolina State University’s NC Hops Project (http://nchops.soil.ncsu.edu/), which has research hop yards in Raleigh and nearby Mills River, where varieties are being tested to determine which grow best in the Southeast. Using soil and tissue samples from our hop yard and a few other growers in the area, as well as the two research hop yards, this project has successfully developed nutrient recommendations for growing hops in North Carolina—information that was unavailable to growers just a couple years ago.
With more than a dozen microbreweries within an hour’s drive of the farm, we sell the bulk of our hops fresh (wet) for special seasonal brews—this requires coordinating our harvest with the brew masters’ schedules, and delivery within hours of harvest. Those hops that we don’t sell fresh, we dry on site, the same day they are harvested. The dried whole cones are vacuum-sealed and frozen for sale to home brewers.
Each growing season continues to yield answers to the unique cultural challenges of growing hops in the mountains of Western North Carolina, contributing to the expansion of this crop outside the Pacific Northwest. Blue Ridge Hops anticipates that such expanded production will provide distinctive characteristics particular to specific growing regions, adding ever more options to the brewing art.
To learn more about Blue Ridge Hops, please visit www.blueridgehops.com.