The nights are drawing in, the first hoar frosts are crystallising the mornings and there’s a nip in the air. It’s October now, so those drenching deluges of autumnal precipitation have started to hit. Woodfires are being lit, woollen jumpers are being inspected for moth holes and everyone’s generally getting a bit miserable and hunkering down.
But not me. I’m gurning like an idiot – even more so than normal. The source of this mirth against the prevailing public opinion can be traced back to the fact that I haven’t experienced a British autumn in 4 years. So I’m bloody loving it right now.
This season of mists and mellow fruitfulness is a really special time of year for me. It’s when the landscape matures and reaches fulfilment in its yearly cycle. The warm, rich colours of the chlorophyll-devoid leaves make their presence known and the light takes on an ethereal quality, like it’s permanently on ‘nostalgic’ filter.
The orchards and hedgerows are currently bursting with fruit – apples, pears, damsons and blackberries all adding colour and perfume. The result of this fruition is activity – the Shire is alive with the sound of harvest. There’s a stretch of road near me that I call ‘tractor alley’ – you are guaranteed to get stuck behind a trailer. Some folk get so irate, but not me. I just chill and soak up the sweet, honeyed aromas of cider apples and perry pears bobbing along.
These harvest weeks are the culmination of a year’s worth of collaboration between man and nature, and it’s the people, as much as the place that brings autumn alive. Whilst living in New Zealand I got to know the process and some of the intricacies of winemaking. It’s basically the same as cider: get fruit, squeeze fruit, make juice, ferment juice, bingo. Of great fun, obviously, was visiting all of the wineries in the region, tasting their offerings and learning about their ethos and virtues.
But wine in NZ is such a young industry, devoid of any great heritage, tradition and nuance. I’d like to go to Burgundy to see gnarled Pinot Noir and Chardonnay vines, cavernous cellars built into the mountainside, and family winemakers going for 17 generations. But why go all the way to France when I can experience this level of heritage right on my doorstep?! We’ve got 300 year old perry pear trees, cider apple varieties described as ‘old’ in 1664 and wonderful events that celebrate this culture. My favourite – The Big Apple – took place the other week. It is a celebration of the orchards, apples & pears and cider & perry of the parishes of the Marcle Ridge in South East Herefordshire. Surely no other event on the cider/perry calendar epitomises this culture and evokes such positivity and general wondrous rays of light?!
But it really is the people I’ve missed since being away, so I’m making amends. I’ve been out and about meeting these bastions of traditional cider and perry making over the last few weeks I’m lucky enough to call many of these folks my friends, so I get to have a good mooch around, sample the latest bottlings and ruminate on the state of things. The likes of Tom Oliver, Paul Stephens and Mike Johnson have been incredibly important on my path to Ciderology, and it’s great to be able to keep the education going.
Hopefully this autumn is going to be the first of many that I document here, and will mark a rekindling of my own cider and perry making. And if all else fails, I now know I make a second-rate cider donkey.