Empty Orchard, Full Vessels.
Our early December daily walk around the orchard furnishes major sensory input. This time of year seems to embrace more change than any other. There are few apples to be seen now and the views down the aisles and through the rows of trees become longer and more defined. The smells change from a rich fruity aroma to a slightly earthy tang with a damp leaf finish. The leaves are gently rustling to the ground after the first frost and there is a background chatter of fieldfares and blackbirds. The sodden earth from a very wet October has been slowly drying out during November, leaving us with firm bottomed muddy ruts and crisp tractor tyre tread marks. The only apples remaining are on the orchard floor over by Orchard Croft and these are supplying excellent food for the pigs and visiting birds. The fruit keeps really well in these cool damp conditions and will provide sustenance for some weeks before the remains gradually disappear in the detritus of the under tree world as the season inexorably turns.
In contrast to the almost empty orchard and after a very busy harvest period, the new shiny vessels in the Production Shed are all completely full with another 10 x 1000 litre containers currently standing outside. This has been our largest crushing by far as we have almost tripled our capacity.
Our circular orchard walk or 'the round' has been a significant part of our daily routine that has gradually become a little slower as Zeiki, our German Shorthaired Pointer has got older. She had reached 16 1/2, a good age for the breed and we always said we would keep her going as long as she could get round the orchard and enjoy her walk. After a little collapse last week, we decided the time had come and on a sunny morning the vet came to the house and she sloughed off her canine mortal coil and made a peaceful and dignified entry to the great kennel in the sky to bound about unfettered and free. Zeiki now resides quietly under an oak tree at the back of the house where she has spent her whole life. She is at rest while we still listen for the sound of her toes tip tapping across the floor and miss her unfailing loyalty and enthusiasm for life in the orchard. The two cats, Edith and Simone seem to catch our mood and rub against our legs, snuggle into our laps and purr gently and tell us it is alright to miss our lovely dog and for our eyes to mist over every now and again and to swallow a little harder as we remember her life well lived.
Although we grow apples and make cider, I am not averse to a decent beer and thoroughly enjoy many of the drinks produced by the local breweries. In October we visited the Ledbury Real Ale Company based at Gazerdine, opposite Roots at Little Verzons and were shown about by Anthony and Kate Stevens. They run a microbrewery and produce three cask ales that they sell to local pubs. They work incredibly hard to balance other part-time work and a young family but are passionate about their brewing and have just expanded production so that the process takes less time. They gave us a real insight into the process, looking at different yeasts, malts, hops and discussing the economics and minute margins of this scale of production. Not for the faint hearted we felt. Simon and I saw a much larger operation when we visited the Wye Valley Brewery last month for a Chamber of Commerce Breakfast meeting. We went there with Cropsharers some years ago and it was fascinating and illuminating to see how they have grown in the intervening time. They now turnover £4.5 million a year and all this from a standing start behind the Barrels pub in Hereford in 1985. Once again their attention to detail and belief in their product shone through. I have also recently enjoyed the art of brewing in medieval times shown on the BBC2 series the Tudor Monastery Farm. The process is still fundamentally the same. Apparently ale and bread made up nearly 80% of the daily calorific intake for many at certain times of year. I have mentioned this to a couple of beer aficionados and they commented that it sounded like a perfectly balanced diet to them!
The format of the Tudor Monastery Farm works really well as it takes the techniques developed by the Tudors and illustrates how they have evolved over the centuries. There was a section on Tudor Bee keeping that was covered by our very own Paul Hand of Bees and Trees. Paul gave his usual instructive and entertaining insight into skep bee keeping of which he has a deep and intimate knowledge. The original bees would have been the British Black bee which preceded the exotic golden bees imported from the continent. An early import replacing a national treasure! Paul feels the black bees are more reliable pollinators as well as being less prone to Sudden Colony Collapse and will soon play their part again. In fact we have just read in the latest NFU Countryside magazine that there are Black bee colonies in the Hebrides which have been made the subject of a Bee Keeping Order. This will create a black bee reserve and it will be an offence to keep any other species of bees on Colonsay and Oronsay. The order will protect the native bees from hybridisation and help ensure that the species remains strong and healthy for future generations.
This is the ideal Christmas gift for the Cider lover in your life. The World Book of Cider has been produced by Pete Brown, who was one of the judges for the BBC Food & Farming Drinks Producer Award, in collaboration with Bill Bradshaw, a cider loving photographer. They have combined to create a beautifully written and photogenic tome that is informative and entertaining. They believe that "Herefordshire represents ciders' intellect and ambition" and that "Once Upon A Tree Cidermaker Simon Day works in partnership with orchardist Norman Stanier in a business that takes painstaking care of everything from how the trees are planted to how the ciders are sold". You can't ask for better than that. (Signed copies now available at our shop!)
Shacksbury Cider, USA
This is a new business from upstate Vermont that is seizing on the renewed American interest in craft cider. Shacksbury Cider has been set up by two young and very enthusiastic guys, David Dolginow and Colin Davis, who want to revive cider growing and making in the US. They are planning to grow cider apples and make their own cider but this will take some time to put in place and they want to have product to launch and grow the business. Both Colin and David have been to visit us earlier this year and Once Upon A Tree is their new UK partner and we have already shipped 3,500 litres of cider stateside this summer. We will send 50,000 litres next year in two large shipping containers and the cider will be pumped in directly from the fermenting vessels. The US Cider is now in 3 beautiful shiny stainless steel containers standing outside the green shed. Each of these holds more cider than we created in our first 2 years of production! Dave and Colin have been working through the fall, gathering cider apples and are testing them to select the best to be planted in due course. Do have a look at their website http://www.shacksbury.com which gives a fascinating glimpse of this new, young vibrant business. During the last few months we have also had a visit from their local fruit farmer Barney Hodges from Sunrise Orchards who is going to be planting up the cider apples for them and from another of their friends who is a Sports Correspondent for the New York Times who came to take photos and create a promo video for them. It has all been rather exciting.