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Pear Blossom in April

This year our orchards enjoyed a wonderful spring & blossom time, giving us one of the best fruit sets ever – Norman feels there was at least twice the number of apples than normal – but the orchard endured a dry summer (at least the first half). Our deep Herefordshire clay soils kept the trees functioning, but the apples were very small. Over 300 Tonnes were harvested, a good yield, but what was really interesting was the concentration of flavour and sweetness in the cider fruit.

Our first pressing was Discovery as normal, bottled as juice in late August.  Our first cider fruit were the Somerset Redstreaks. The juice tasted intense, sweet and full of character. It was essentially the normal juice minus the rain!

The Ellis Bitter, Brown's Apple, Dabinett and Michelin all followed with fairly high sugar levels, but the highest recorded was from the small crop of Kingston Black which came in at 11.5% potential alcohol!

We finished pressing on the 30th November, with Bramley the last variety to go through the mill.

As many reading this will know, unlike many other "cider" producers, I do not add water to our cider, which leaves me with a dilemma – most of our ciders will be wine strength from this harvest – which will take them perhaps somewhat off balance, but also into wine duty levels, so much more expensive. To counter this, I have fermented a fair amount of Bramley juice this year, which is naturally lower in sugar, and therefore alcohol, to blend back into the likes of Putley Gold and Marcle Ridge, to make something that is more consistent of what has gone before. However, I am seriously considering bottling our new Kingston Redstreak at 11.0%! Time will tell as they're still fermenting at the moment.

This year's big experiment, was to use dessert apple fruit to make a new cider for next year. "Dorothy's Orchard" Cider (as it is tentatively known, as the fruit came from the 30 odd varieties in our young orchard named after Norman's mother) is tasting vibrant, fruity and crisp, and those who tried it on our cider making day, thought it tasted fantastic. I'm not quite sure how it will finally end up – we are considering a 500ml crown cap carbonated cider this year, so maybe this will be the one. I need to start to work on a label design, as we would like to launch this in time for the Big Apple Blossomtime festival in May. I've spoken with Vernon from the excellent Wye Valley Brewery about the name, and he's happy for us to call it "Dorothy's Cider" as long as we don't make the label look like Dorothy Goodbody's! From the scandal they had a few years ago about her state of dress, I think it best to avoid short skirts anyway...

Vital stats:

• 70 Tonnes of apples and pears pressed this year (+some contract pressing)

• 17,000 bottles of apple and pear juice made

• 35,000 litres of cider and perry in fermentation

• Aiming to produce about 35,000 bottles cider & perry and 8,000+ litres draught cider

• Lowest potential alcohol 6.5% (Bramley using for blending) normally below 5%

• Highest potential alcohol 11.5% (Kingston Black) normally around 7%

• 17 Tonnes of Pomace fed to pigs!

Cider apples ready for harvest
Hand picking Michelin apples
Loading the cheese on the press

I was looking for Pupitres to borrow, rent, or even buy to "riddle" our Champagne method sparkling cider and perry before our new automated riddling machine arrives. Whilst searching for "pupitres" on ebay came across someone selling this excellent postcard:

Pupitres in BulmersPupitres_in_Bulmers_Back

What an incredible sight that must have been - 200,000 bottles turned by hand every day. Assuming a 3 week cycle, they would be able to make nearly 3.5 million bottles per year. This traditional cider is all but lost, big volume production costed out of the market place by an extortionate duty regime, but we are doing our bit to revive quality traditional method sparkling cider and perry! We will be riddling around 5,000 bottles of the 2009 vintage this year, releasing by the end of May. We'll keep you informed!

By the way, you can see some of the racks, and original disgorging equipment at the Hereford Cider Museum - worth a visit!


Pupitres full of cider and perryOur new Champagne pupitres arrived this morning, and I spent an hour loading them with our 2009 traditional method sparkling perry and cider.

I will riddle these bottles twice a day in an attempt to get the yeast on the crown cap in time for the Big Apple Blossomtime Competition! - a bit of a tall order....  I've got 16 days... normally it takes 24 days... wish me luck!

Having just launched our new dessert pear wine, I am being asked how we came to name it "The Wonder".

As well as being appropriate in terms of dictionary definitions,

  1. "Wonder" - a thing or a quality of something that causes wonder // - a surprising event or situation
  2. "Wonder" - a feeling of amazement and admiration, caused by something beautiful, remarkable, or unfamiliar...

the main reason is a local landmark known as "The Wonder", a land slip that occured in 1575 on the nearby Marcle Ridge.  This description hangs in the nearby "Slip Tavern" in Much Marcle:

On the 17th February 1575 a very remarkable landslip occurred here: on the evening of that day Marcle Hill began to move, and in its progress overthrew the chapel at Kinnaston, together with hedges and trees and after destroying many cattle finally rested at its present position on the 19th.

Camden gives the following account: “near the conflux of Lug and the Wye, east, a hill which they call Marclay Hill did in the year 1575 rouse itself as it were out of sleep and for three days together shoving its prodigious body forward with a horrible roaring noise and overturning everything in its way, raised itself to the great astonishment of the beholders, to a higher place.

The place where this hill originally stood is now a chasm 40ft deep and 400ft in length. About 1840 during the ploughing of the site of the landslip at a place called “The Wonder” the bell of Old Kinnaston Chapel was unearthed and brought to Sir James Kyrle Money, Lord of the Manor, who placed it in the tower of Homme House, where it still hangs.

I particularly like the following quote from the book "The Natural History of Selborne", by Gilbert White (1720-93) who quotes the words of John Philips, describing how whole trees were uprooted and transported into neighbouring fields:

'I nor advise, nor reprehend the choice Of Marcley Hill; the apple nowhere finds A kinder mould; yet 'tis unsafe to trust Deceitful ground; who knows but that once more This mount may journey, and his present site Forsaken, to thy neighbour's bounds transfer Thy goodly plants, affording matter strange For law debates!'

In Victorian times people came from far and wide to view 'The Wonder'. It is shown on the Ordnance Survey map at reference SO6236.

APigs eating pomace on Noggin Farmpples are between 60 to 80 percent juice, which means, after pressing, we have between 20 - 40 percent of the original weight of apples as used pomace.  Over the full harvest we end up with around 30 Tonnes of waste pomace.  This waste is difficult to compost, and posed a bit of a problem as our production levels increased, with the majority going to a composting facility at considerable cost.

Since last harvest, we have teamed up with nearby Noggin Farm who keep pigs up on the Marcle Ridge.  Fortunately the pigs love the pomace, which still has considerable nutritional value, owners Sarah and Will get several trailer loads of pig feed for free, and we get rid of our waste - everyone wins!

For the latest Big Apple Harvestime festival, we also supplied our Tumpy Ground to the Noggin, for a special apple & cider sausage recipe. One of 5 different cider sausages - all very different, but all excellent!

(photo credit: Noggin Farm)


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