We’re in the height of summer here in New Zealand. Although sometimes summer in Wellington should be taken with a pinch of salt; or rather a pinch of something quite protective of the wild weather. In the week leading up to Christmas it was warmer in London than it was here in Welly. Still, as soon as the bad weather comes, it soon goes, leaving behind beautiful, golden sunshine – perfect cider drinking weather.
So it was with some great sadness that, whilst literally with cider in hand, I read that the Shepton Cider Mill is to close. If ever there was a town synonymous with the heritage and traditions of cider, it’s Shepton Mallett. The world’s largest cider championships takes place on the edge of the town every year at the Royal Bath and West Show and cider has been made there for centuries. The iconic Babycham was also born and made on this site, making it a central character is Perry’s heritage also. To this day, a fawn has stood guard on site reminding all and sundry of this unique heritage.
If there is any good that can come from this story, it is that the apple mill will remain open. Thousands of acres of cider apple orchards exist in Somerset, with a large proportion of them supplying the Shepton Cider Mill. These orchards will be under contract to local farmers, on agreed contract lengths of probably 20-30 years. It’s an incredible thought that the raw material for a fast moving consumer good could, and should, be set on such long timescales. But as there is no other use for this fruit (cider apples are not pleasant to eat), cider makers need to show commitment to the growers to ensure it is a viable crop. The continuation of cider apple growing will ensure cider’s ongoing contribution towards the local rural economy in this region.
Things are not all doom and gloom, however. The surge of interest in the roots of cider shows no abating; not just in the drink itself, but also in its history and heritage. Across the UK, beacons of light, whether it be a family cider farm being recognised as one of Cornwall’s top tourist attractions or the ever increasingly celebrated wassail tradition, shine bright.
Meanwhile, in the ‘new world’, cider’s inexorable march continues. Unemcumbered by tradition or heritage, markets such as New Zealand are writing their own history. Much like in the same way that NZ Sauvignon Blanc is an entirely different beast from its French cousin, suiting its climate and palatte, the opportunity for NZ cider to do the same is nigh, and is entirely possible.
The question is, what is NZ cider? Well, that’s a pretty big question, but the time is ripe to start the conversation and this will be the focus of my next article (having undertaken the requisite research and quality control). Suffice to say, for now, that there is a strong entreprenerual and innovative spirit here in NZ, taking leaf out of the highly successful craft brewers’ book. For example, just this week, the guys from Moa announced a cider containing the secret to eternal youth . Now, whether you want to buy into the hype or not, there’s no denying that there is an appetite here in NZ for cider products that are fun, quirky and characterful – much like Kiwis themselves. The question is, are products such as this merely a fad in the genesis of NZ cider, or at the core of what NZ cider is?
I’ll be in a much better position to tackle this question, and extend my knowledge of NZ cider products and consumers, over the next few weeks as I undertake a couple of cider tastings in the city, before judging at the New World Beer and Cider Awards.
The world of cider, the old and the new, as ever are in a state of flux. But there’s nothing more consistent than change, right?