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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
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