Windy Hill Orchard & Cider Mill opened its orchard at noon Friday, warning that poor drought conditions would probably result in a very short two-week picking season. I vowed not to miss apple season this year so when I saw them announce the grand opening, I made plans to be there within 24 hours.
Little did I know that was how long their season would last this year. By 4 p.m. Saturday, the pick-your-own orchard closed. I cannot win.
We got there about two hours before they announced the closure on Saturday, so we unknowingly dove straight in to what we thought was the first round of picking but was really the very end.
Unlike most orchards I’ve visited, Windy Hill requires that you pre-purchase an empty bag before entering the fields. We were warned by an employee not to purchase a large bag because there wouldn’t be enough apples to fill it so we planned to buy one and share it just for the experience.
Correction: I planned to do this for the experience. My boyfriend, who is the Scrooge of apple season, wanted to just buy the pre-bagged apples at the stand and call it a day. We did not drive an hour to buy pre-bagged apples so I forced the experience.
Turns out everyone has to have their own bag so we begrudgingly bought two small bags, which is probably equivalent to the one large bag we were told not to purchase in the first place. Oh well.
Game on. Spirits high. There will be an apple-picking experience.
Just kidding, there were no apples. I’m talking no apples at all. We walked up and down the rows for about 15 minutes before dragging our feet back to the entrance where we were allowed to “pick” apples out of a box to fill our two non-refundable pre-paid bags. It was all pretty depressing.
I don’t blame Windy Hill for the short season; that’s completely out of their hands. But I do think there were multiple times throughout that failed apple-picking experience when someone could have said, “Hey guys, Mother Nature won and we don’t have any apples to pick so don’t waste your money but please hang around and enjoy our other offerings.”
Because the thing is, Windy Hill has lots of other great offerings beyond picking apples. In fact, I would have driven there solely for their other offerings. There’s live music, fresh fried apple cider doughnuts and killer hard cider.
We got a dozen doughnuts (and ate six before we even got home) and my boyfriend got the hard cider flight, which included six samples for $11.
They were all excellent but the Rusty Gold and Gala Peach were the standouts.
Rusty Gold hard cider: “This spiced cider, with hints of cinnamon, nutmeg and orange peel, is one of our most popular styles. Made with the same blend of spices that we have used to make our wassail for over 20 years. Tastes like Christmas in a glass.”
Gala Peach hard cider: “A salute to the local peach industry, this slightly sweet cider is blend of our hard cider and local peach juice. Back-sweetened to bring out the fresh peach flavor, this cider is also excellent served over ice.”
I think Windy Hill is worth it just for the hard cider and doughnut experience so here are some tips if you plan to go:
- Live music is Saturdays from 1-5 p.m. Check their events page to see who’s playing when.
- Bugs are pretty bad, so bring some repellent.
- For additional apple season announcements, keep an eye on their Facebook page. I heard one employee say they might be opening up another field soon but can’t confirm.
- Don’t worry about cash. They’ve got iPad registers at every pay station.
Aside from the pick-your-own bag of apples we didn’t get to pick, I felt like all the pricing was really reasonable. And it’s free to park and enter the main grounds, which is home to the music stage, hard cider bar and snack stand.
- Pick-your-own apples small bag, $5 each
- Hard cider flight (with 6 samples), $11
- Hard cider by the glass/pitcher, $5/$20
- Hard cider bottle to go, $10
- Apple cider doughnuts, $5 per half dozen
- Apple pie, $16
Still want the full apple-picking experience? Me too. I strongly recommend heading into the mountains towards Asheville where cooler temperatures make for better growing conditions. Sky Top Orchard is my #1 favorite because it’s on top of a mountain and has incredible views.