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The orchard is empty of fruit and the press has fallen silent after the most difficult growing and harvesting conditions we can recall. It is with some relief that I write these words as it has been a very trying year for all producers, but as a potato grower said to me recently “At least your crops grow above the ground”. Many of the potato fields have had to be abandoned as the machines simply couldn’t work and the mud on the roads has been a real problem for all concerned. However, here at Dragon Orchard we are able to grow a good range of apple varieties and some of these were fine. Plums and pears were all poor but the Kidds' Orange Red apples are excellent, as are the Herefordshire Russet, Red Devil and Tydeman’s Late Orange. We were short of some individual varieties to make our usual single variety juices, so have combined the earlier ones to make a Summer Blend and the later ones for an Autumn Blend. These are now in the bottle, labels are away being printed and they will be available by the end of November. As the ground was so wet and we had a lighter crop, we altered the way that the main cider crop was harvested, by only making one pass with the harvesting machine down each aisle. The machine could get down once without causing too much damage, but the ground became churned up if we tried to go again. So, after the first pass, the remaining apples were blown through the rows with a fan mounted on a lightweight orchard tractor and thus damage was limited, apart from the headlands. Come the spring we will flatten these out with power harrows and roll it and hopefully do a good reinstatement job. Other orchards have had harvesting machinery so bogged down they have had to be towed out and the enormous holes will have to be filled in with a JCB or a digger. Not a pretty sight. In spite of all the work and worry, it did all get done and we are glad it is now finally, as it says in the English Hymnal, “All safely gathered in, ere the winter storms begin”, which have now begun with a vengeance.

three counties shop
Three Counties Cider Shop

These mid-November Wednesday evenings have seen a series of gatherings at 5a The Homend in Ledbury to celebrate the opening of the new cider shop, right in the middle of town, directly opposite the clock tower. The Three Counties Cider Shop came into being as we have been supplying more and more produce to various other shops. The Bristol Cider Shop, the Essex Cider Shop, the Real Cider Company and the nicely named Merrylegs, have all increased sales and we realised that in the three counties of Herefordshire, Gloucestershire and Worcestershire there has not been a dedicated cider shop until now. 5a The Homend became available as the previous occupant, a sweet shop owner, has moved just across the alleyway to the other side of the Homend Mews. So after some debate and discussion, much crunching of numbers and scratching our heads, we decided to go for it. The licence was applied for and we undertook the fitting out and were able to go for a soft opening in time for the Autumn Big Apple and Cropsharers' Weekend in mid October. The shop looks stunning with the left hand wall completely covered with our wooden apple boxes, full of cider and perry bottles and backlit. On the right hand wall a fine dresser is arrayed with other local products. At the back, behind the counter, the end wall has a row of twelve wooden taps, dispensing draught cider and perry, the best the three counties can offer. Visitors seem genuinely impressed and positive and sales are on target and, like many good ideas, the simplicity and the elegance of design is what carries it through.

The Three Counties Cider Shop, 5a The Homend, Ledbury - where a warm welcome awaits.

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BBC Radio Four British Food and Farming Awards 2012

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In early October we had a call from Radio Four asking us to send some samples of our products to the Food Programme as we had been nominated and then shortlisted for the Drinks Producer of the Year Award. The shortlist had been whittled down from well over 100 nominees and we were delighted to have progressed that far in such a prestigious competition. We thought no more about it but then had another call to ask us to be sure to listen to the Food Programme the following Sunday. There it was announced that the three finalists in the Drinks Producer award category were Kilchoman Distillery on Islay, the Kernel Brewery in London and Once Upon A Tree from Putley, Ledbury, Herefordshire. The judges, Victoria Moore and Pete Brown visited on the last Thursday of October and we met them at Ledbury Station and immediately took them to visit the newly opened cider shop. We then toured round the orchard, having duly warned them to bring willies and visited the shed where pressing was going on and they were able to taste liquids dispensed straight from the tank. They then sampled the finished products, finishing off with soup and local cheeses for lunch and got them back into Ledbury Station just in time for their afternoon train. Now we are off to the Good Food Show at the NEC on November 28th to find out the final result. Whatever the result, we are absolutely delighted to be the only cider and juice producer in the final and have greatly enjoyed the whole experience.

winepressFurther pressings

Five years ago in 2007, just as my mother sloughed off her mortal coil, we had just begun our very first pressing of apples with the newly purchased Voran press. Now in 2012 we have pressed our first load of grapes from a vineyard in the Cotswolds with our newly acquired wine press. The equipment has come from nearby Coddington Vineyard, which has recently changed hands. Once Upon A Tree was able to purchase the wine making equipment so our green shed is now full of shiny stainless steel fermenting kit with all the caboodle that goes to turn grapes into wine. However, the press that we have acquired has also been able to crush perry pears, which are extremely slippery and difficult to do on the apple press. It has made it a much less messy and more efficient operation and Simon has been a very happy chappy playing with all his new toys.

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In complete contrast Annie, Simon and I recently visited the cider mill just outside Ledbury, which is owned by Heineken and is the largest apple mill in Europe. The scale of it is mind boggling and it can process 2,500 tonnes of apples a day. At that rate it would take two hours to process our entire cider crop this year. All the juice it produces is evaporated into concentrate, which looks, tastes and smells pretty much like thin treacle. It is so heavy that the road tankers used to transport it into Hereford where it is fermented, have to be reinforced with a massive steel frame. I always wondered what those massive tankers carried and now I know.

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