[By Richard Sheppard in Sebastopol, California] Devoto Gardens is a 20 acre diversified family farm nestled among apple orchards, pinot noir vines, and a bounty of flowers for cutting. Situated west of downtown Sebastopol, the farm is often canopied with cool morning fog that lingers into the afternoon hours, providing a perfect climate for cultivating flowers, grapes, and apples.
In 1975, Susan and Stan Devoto bought the ranch that would become Devoto Gardens and began farming micro-greens and flowers the following year. But it didn't take long before the family became obsessed with apples, and now they grow over 50 varieties of heirloom species.
The Devotos grow as many heirloom apples as there are uses and tastebuds. Thousands of nuances make each individual apple delicious, whether its being used for raw eating, juicing, baking, or cider.
Jolie (the middle daughter of three) acknowledges that the best tasting apples are also the most difficult to grow, and therefore, require the most dedication. Although apple trees are resilient, the more TLC they receive, the better the flavor of the fruit. Having grown apples for nearly 40 years, the Devotos intimately know each variety: the time of harvest, what it tastes like at its best, and the amount of acid versus sugar in the fruit.
The apple harvest begins with the Gravenstein in August and will last into November. Once the apples have been picked, they are hauled from the orchard to a spot in front of the greenhouse where they are sorted, boxed, labeled, and loaded into a van for the markets.
Gravensteins have a sweet/tart flavor combo with a little spice and bright acidity. They're perfect for eating, saucing, baking, or in the case of Jolie's new venture with her husband Hunter, artisan sparkling hard cider. Regardless of use, the Gravenstein Apple remains a symbol of Sonoma County's historical agricultural tradition.