Some may associate cider with youths downing two litre blue plastic bottles in a park, or farmers in Somerset slurping scrumpy from old milk cartons but round these parts, cider only means one thing; Gwatkin.
The Gwatkins have over two decades of commercial cider making under their belts, but there have been orchards at their Moorhampton Park Farm in Herefordshire for hundreds of years.
Located in the idyllic Golden Valley and headed up by Denis Gwatkin, the cider makers have a range of 35 ciders and perries including their award winning, world famous, Yarlington Mill Cider. The blog caught up with bearded cider wizard Denis to talk about his apples, cider making process and his farm.
When did you start making cider?
Cider has been made at our farm in Abbey Dore for hundreds of years.
The farm started out as a monastic grange of Dore Abbey and later became a deer park by 1577. My family has been here since 1910 as tenant farmers of the Bacton Estate and they bought the farm in 1919.
Cider and perry have always been made here and we are often discovering old bits of equipment and even part of a medieval pillar.
We started commercial cider making in 1992 as a side part of the farming business It is now the main part of our farm business, with sheep and beef cattle being the others. We keep Hereford Cattle, Suffolk and Ryeland sheep, as well as 3 rheas on the farm, which attract a lot of attention. We also have some geese, chickens and turkeys.
What apples and pears do you grow and use for the cider and perry?
We use cider and perry fruit from our own orchards and from other local farmers. Traditional apple cider apple varieties such as Kingstone Black, Stoke Red, Morgan Sweet as well as perry pears such as Blakeney Red are grown in our orchards.
How do you make your cider?
Unlike beer, cider cannot be made throughout the year; only when the fruit is ripe in the autumn. Pears do not keep well so are usually milled straight after harvesting with apples storing for longer. The fruit is collected from our trees, washed, then chopped up or scratted before being pressed. The juice will then be pumped into old whiskey casks for fermentation or with some of our other varieties, into our 1000 gallon wooden tuns. All of our ciders and perries are fermented using natural yeasts and will spend time in oak. Unlike some makers we do not use oak chips for flavouring.
In April, the cider and perry will have finished fermenting and will be transferred into another vessel for storage and maturation. Just this week our perries are all back in stock in our farm shop and online store, having finished fermenting and being bottled or put into Bag in Boxes.
What has been a highlight of starting the business for the Gwatkins?
The highlight of the business would have to be winning international cider maker of the year award, as well as the countless awards from our friends at CAMRA, the Campaign for Real Ale.