Australia doesn’t want me to leave. Quite literally. I am held up at Sydney airport whilst the most gargantuan downpour breaks the heat that has been building all day. All operations stop whilst the threat of the electrical storm passes. When we finally get into Wellington, via a mildly sphincter-relaxing, turbulence rock’n’roller, my bag is wet. Not wet, as in, damp or soggy, but literally as if it has been immersed in a lake. For several days. Bugger.
Never fear! For Gabe’s uncanny knack for being jammy with the weather continues (2012, wettest year on record – I spend 2 weeks in the sun in Ireland. I must have sold my left kidney to Lucifer for that one). Wellington, well all of NZ, has had an awful summer, but for one day only, to welcome back the prodigal Ciderologist, the sun has very much got its hat on. As well as facilitating bonhomie and a 10 minute burn time, the UV-rich NZ sun also dries your sopping bag and its contents, undies and all, in under 2 hours. Shot bro!
Wellington is home to the finest collection of cider made available in NZ via the legendary Regional Wines and Spirits. Located opposite the Basin Oval (the only bespoke cricket ground in NZ, scene of happy days in the past, and a public footpath during the day) these guys don’t disappoint. The cider shelves are somewhat bare, but only because they’ve taken a happy hit over the weekend, I have been informed. There are a few new NZ brands that have come onto the market, tapping into the well established skillsets of apple growing and wine making that have existed here for a while now.
Part of what makes travelling exciting is finding these new brands, with their own inimitable flavour, style and attitude. So there I am, 11,500 miles from the UK, and what do I find on the shelves? Bloody Somerset Cider. Granted, it happened to be a trio from one of the best, Somerset cider maker extraordinaire, Worley’s. Or Neil, as I like to call him.
Upon my departure from NZ almost exactly 12 months previously, it felt as if craft cider was about to take a bit of a surge. The breadth of quality products emerging was heartening and exciting and felt like the conversation on ‘What is a classic NZ cider?’ had just begun. For my part, I helped to pose this question and facilitated some discussion through my review of the state of the category. And then I then promptly buggered off back to the Mothership.
Despite all this positivity, the view on the ground is that craft cider is still jockeying for position, biding its time. Because of the slow nature of cider production, it takes time for new products to be developed and brought to market. Cider will always be smaller and slower than beer. But it can be equally as good, and the fine NZ public are just starting to get to grips with it.
I headed to my old stomping ground – the Moutere Valley – to see dear friends and to spend a night or two in French Pass or Wharariki Beach, but Pomona had other plans. Precisely one day after I touch down in NZ, Cyclone Cook (irony alert! irony alert!) sweeps through the country, bringing widespread flooding and general carnage. For a 10 minute period one night, the van I was sleeping in was being precipitation pelted at the rate of 6 inches an hour!
So I reverted to being a Kiwi for a few days: jandals on, sweet as, good as gold, no worries. But that was fine because it gave me time to prepare for the insanity that was about to come: the USA. My first consideration was simply entering the country. At a time of unprecedented levels of National Security and suspicion of odd looking folk, would US customs really believe the wholly implausible story that I, gurning moustache owner, was in town to judge a cider competition? Is that the sound of latex gloves I can hear…..