There is evidence that the Gravenstein, of European origin, was first planted in Sonoma County in 1811 by Russian trappers who settled the coastal Fort Ross area. One hundred years later, the famous botanist Luther Burbank commented, “It has often been said that if the Gravenstein could be had throughout the year, no other apple need be grown.”
During the first half of the 20th century, Gravenstein was the source for apple sauce and dried apples for the U.S. troops in World War II.
California State Route 116 through portions of western Sonoma County is designated “Gravenstein Highway” to commemorate the industry.
Today it is primarily found in the western reaches of the county, mainly around the city of Sebastopol. The orchards are threatened in recent years by residential, business development and lower demand for cider, and as a crop it is outperformed by wine grapes.
This sweet, tart and cider apple is a symbol of Sonoma County’s agricultural diversity and family farming.
The skin of the fruit is a delicately waxy yellow-green with crimson spots and reddish lines, but the apple may also occur in a classically red variation. The flesh is juicy, finely grained, and light yellow.
The fruit ripens in late July, one of the first apples in North America ready for market.
Gravensteins are difficult to pick and sell for a number of reasons. They have short stems, and apples on the same tree ripen at different times. Moreover, they have a soft skin, so they are delicate and perishable, difficult to store and ship over long distances. Gravenstein apples can be found locally and mostly at farmers’ markets.
In 2006 Slow Food started a Presidium project in 2006 with a group of producers from Sebastopol.