Dear cider afficionados (and those who have accidentally found themselves here – welcome!)
My profuse apologies for the lack of commentary over the last few weeks. I’ve been preoccupied with quite a challenge: learning a new craft. I’ve worked in the cider (and latterly wine) industry for the last 9 years. Making, and/or talking about, alcohol is the ridiculously fun occupation I have managed to pursue over the course of this time. But, as happens to all men, we eventually turn into our Dad. For me that means wearing brightly coloured socks, laughing at my own jokes and itching for a change in work/lifestyle every couple of years.
It’s apparent that I hanker after new challenges and experiences on a frequent basis. It’s as a result of this genetic predisposition that I found myself, self confessed cider-fuelled country bumpkin that I am, moving from the wilds of Nelson to New Zealand’s capital city to start work as a travel agent.
Wellington is a wonderful city: home of NZ’s roaraway success craft beer scene; funky and trendy, situated on the water front, and with green spaces galore. But the opportunity to work with apples is somewhere between slim and none (read none). So whilst (admitedly somewhat haphazardly) pursuing my passion for advocating cider as a hobby, I have been gainfully employed selling flights and holiday packages to the great NZ public. To those who know me, this choice of occupation wouldn’t necessarily come as a massive surprise – as well as living in New Zealand for over two years now, I’ve had the privilege of travelling to some weird and wonderful places such as Bolivia, Ethiopia, Oman and Estonia to name but a few.
I do have a genuine passion for travel, and that certainly helps when trying to sell these products. Passion is one thing, however – learning the craft of how to actually construct an airfare is another. And it’s for this reason that I blame my radio silence, because learning a new craft is bloody hard work. Although I have chopped and change my employment over the last decade, I’ve been speaking in my mother tongue, so to speak. I’m now trying to learn a new language, and, to anyone who has attempted this, it’s challenging and draining.
Not that my cider skills are entirely redundant. It makes for a great icebreaker when speaking to customers or meeting knew folk in the city. It seems to bring a smile to their face. This could, of course, be a gurn of bemusement at the very large moustache I have been sporting for some time.
Perversely enough, travelling was a major reason why I got into the cider industry in the first place, and why I find myself in New Zealand right now. I’d been a fan of drinking cider during my teenage and university years. I suppose this is what happens when you’re lucky enough to grow up in the heart of Ciderland, with the likes of Westons and small, farm producers on the doorstep.
Being a Geography graduate, and a fan of the Lord of the Rings movies, spending time in NZ, exoloring its wild regions, as part of my round the world trip in 2006 was a must. I also wanted to investigate what cider looked like in New Zealand. And so I emailed a chap called Brian Shanks, then owner of the Harvest Cidery in Gisborne, on the North Island’s east coast. As well as being most forthcoming and welcoming me to the cidery, Brian also recognised the reference to the ‘Stinking Bishop’ in my email address at the time. It became apparent that Brian was not only aware of this multi-award winning, perry-washed cheese, but he had met the cheese maker, Charles Martell, and attended a wassail at his farm. Charles is based in Dymock, the very same village that I hail from.
The thought that a chap on the other side of the world knew of my little village as a result of cider blew my mind. It was somewhat of an epiphany, and was the first time I saw first hand the magic and power of cider to transcend the globe. Upon my return to the UK after finishing my travels, I found myself living in a shed at Broome Farm, home of Ross-on-Wye Cider, learning the craft of cider making under the tutelage of the legendary Mike Johnson. And the rest, as they say, is history.
In the intervening nine years since my first encounter with Brian, cider has undergone the most incredible change here in New Zealand, and throughout the globe. Brian officially retired a number of years ago, but was rather astutely acquired by some gentlemen from Virginia, to form the Bold Rock Hard Cider company, which is performing well in the fast-growing US market.
It wasn’t so long ago that cider was terribly out of vogue, no more so than here in NZ. But, my, how times have changed. I was privileged enough to judge at the New Zealand Cider Championships a few weeks ago. The diversity and standard was utterly breathtaking – ciders made from English cider apple varieties, matured in oak casks, fermented with wild yeasts and so on. Real craftmasnship and quality is starting to emerge. The cider revolution has begun and Wellington is at the forefront.
The Ciderologist is attempting to do his bit (and you know he’s being serious when he’s talking about thimself in the third person). Alongside the judging I have been doing (with future engagements also booked in) I am in talks to undertake a number of talks and tasting in the City in the new year. I was even accosted by the proprietor of my local dairy (corner shop for my English readers), recently, who shouted at me, ‘Hey, Mr Cider!’ – in reference to an article about me in FMCG magazine.
Tonight I had had the pleasure of drinking two quite divergent ciders that demonstrates Wellington’s position at the vanguard of this movement. Steel Press Cider is made by the chaps from Crumpet in Courtney place. A touch off dry, lightly hazy and mildly effervescent, I was really impressed by the power, fruitiness and complexity by this cider; no mean feat when dealing with eating apples. A perfect sessionable drink for a warm summer’s day (nearly as rare in Wellington as in the UK), this cider demonstrates the quality that can be achieved with good attention to detail, a good pallete and allowing nature to take its course.
Secondly, I popped along to the sentational Regional Wines, my local drinks store. They have the best range of cider in the country, featuring New Zealand’s finest, as well as quality offerings from England, France and Spain. I selected a bottle of Val de Rance, a Breton classic. Rich and funky, this medium-sweet cider is well balanced with against wonderfully astringent tannins. Although made on the other side of the world from one another, and polar opposites in term of style, these two ciders eptiomise why Wellington is driving the New Zealand cider industry forward at pace – innovation, tradition and passion are present in equal measure. I’ll drink to that.