What better way to remember Australia than to drink a bottle of vintage cider that we had been kindly given by Shaun and Tessa at Hillbilly Cider in the Blue Mountains.
Having had a FaceTime conversation with our son and family in Sydney we were missing our January visit and this seemed the ideal way to raise our spirits on a cold, wet day in Covid lockdown.
Made from the Julie apple, a new variety discovered in the neighbouring orchard, it’s a light, refreshing cider that belies Shaun’s background as a winemaker.
The apple was discovered by the owner Bill Shields who named it after his wife Julie. He explained the rigmarole and cost of getting a new variety registered and he was pleased that Shaun was using it as the basis for his cider.
Bilpin is surrounded by trees and the video that Shaun posted on Facebook showed how close a bushfire had come to engulfing their cidery in 2019. The only gap between them and the fire was the main road and Shaun and his friend kept the buildings doused in water. With true Aussie resilience they were open again for business within a couple of weeks.
On a visit to Tasmania we discovered Willie Smith’s cider in the Huon Valley. The climate is conducive to growing the varieties of cider apple familiar to Herefordshire and Somerset. The Yarlington Mill and Kingston Black single varieties that we brought back have helped us keep our sanity through 2020.
You can’t visit Australia without sampling the wines and at Tyrells in the Hunter Valley we heard that they pick by hand and rely on wild yeast for fermentation. Very much our philosophy and practice as craft cidermakers. We’ve just drunk the last bottle of their Verdelho and as soon as we’re allowed to visit again we’ll be on the aeroplane.
In 2009 we planted some perry pear trees to celebrate the birth of our first four grandchildren.
The first planting was Winnal’s Longdon which has special significance as the variety originated in Weston-under-Penyard where Brian was born. As more grandchildren arrived in subsequent years we planted more trees.
We now have Brandy, Blakeney Red and the one bright spot of 2020 was a sufficiently good crop of Hendre Huffcap and Yellow Huffcap to make single-variety batches. Both had reached a specific gravity of 1010 by New Year’s Day. Our chief taster, Fran, declared them up to standard and we have put some in champagne bottles to mature. In a few months’ time we’ll report on progress.
As for the orchard the emergence of daffodil shoots reminds us that we need to be finishing pruning. This will include trimming off lower branches broken by muntjacs and higher branches by fallow deer.
Our popular Jack’s Tipple cider recognizes the previous generations who have managed our traditional orchard. Planted in 1959 by Fran’s father Jack Greenway it has supplied cider apples to Bulmers and Westons. Jack would meet his friend Norman Weston in the Slip Tavern in Much Marcle (beware any visitor who occupied their barside stools) and discuss business as well as share village gossip. There may be some truth in the family story that payment was in cider rather than money.
Another snippet of family history from that era, verified by Fran’s mother, was of the postman nipping into the cellar to pour a horn of cider from the barrel to sustain him on his round.
As those who have visited Woodredding will know we have stunning views of the Malvern Hills with Bredon Hill and the Cotswolds in the distance.
The sun we can see rising behind a snow-covered May Hill is real enough but this year’s Big Apple Wassail will only be virtual.
Cider making is finished for this season and the juice is bubbling away quietly even in our unheated cider house. We’re trying very hard to leave it to Mother Nature and resist the temptation to taste but we will soon be extracting a drop from the fermenting barrels with a turkey baster.
The orchard may appear dormant but, regardless of what might be happening in the world beyond, the trees will still need pruning and the battle against mistletoe will continue.
We’ve been bottling some Yellow Huffcap perry which will now bottle condition until 2022 and hopefully by then the nightmares of 2020 will have receded into folk memory.
The other task in this new year has been labelling our popular Yarlington Mill and Jack’s Tipple ciders.
We can only guess at what it will be like in the ‘new normal’ but we hope that those who have discovered our cider and perry online will want more. More information on how it's made and how you can buy some.
— Fran and Brian Robbins