Harvest 2023 - the Charm & Challenges of Seasonality
Typing this fresh from a day of sorting Dabinett apples as they made their way into the mill. From our home orchard, the smells were glorious and the juice tasted great. Yesterday it was Yarlington Mill from our friends at Hill Farm. Really typifying this changeable year, there was much more variety in the Yarlington's ripeness than other years. But overall we quite like that. There's still the phenolic impact of this top cider apple, but just a little bit more acid and freshness for balance.
And then today, a gift – not quite from the gods, but a friend of one of our key orchardists offered us some Butt perry pears, a variety we have loved ever since we were first introduced to it some five years ago.
Not Too Long Now…
We’re well over half way through harvest now – it’s always hard to tell exactly how much fruit there is to pick and the growers' estimates are just that until the fruit arrives – but the finishing line is definitely in view!
Apart from the two storms – Babette way worse for us than Ciara – until the recent rains, autumn has been warm and benign. This has brought a little more ripeness to the later varieties than we might have hoped for during what turned out to be a fairly miserable summer.
Since I last wrote, Harry Masters Jersey from our Home Orchard has joined Dabinett in the fermentation zone. We have also seen Balls Bittersweet and Stoke Red (a first for us!) from Hill Farm make their way through, plus Michelin from Jean and Kris at Grove Farm in Yarkhill.
Beautiful perry pears, Faucett, a French variety from Stephen at Throne Farm near Weobley, are in the wings, awaiting their turn. Juicy, fragrant and oh so tannic, we're very excited about these. Vilberie (another first) are due soon from Jean and Kris. And lastly some glorious Egremont Russet from our friend Nick in Worcestershire.
The second sorting table has become ever more useful as we check all the fruit this year. Typically, some of the pears' ripening schedule have been difficult to discern, so there's been much checking of fruit, to see whether bletting - the desired ripening from the core out, seen above - is taking place. In this case, it certainly is.
One for Four and Four for One
We’re also working on a special perry project with Ross on Wye Cider and Perry, the fruit for which is still to be picked. Medlars have been collected from the garden orchard of former Mayor of Hereford, Paul Stevens. Again we will be the only UK producer to press all four of the principal pome fruits – apples, pears, quince and medlars – this year. It’s a small claim to fame I know.
Sugars have remained lower than in the previous three vintages but not worryingly so. Acid levels, low for much of the early fruit, seem to have returned to normal levels for the mid- to late-season varieties.
We’ve been checking through all of the ferments which in the main are progressing well. There are of course a few sluggish outliers and a few that have raced ahead to dryness – this year’s Disco Nouveau for example, which is already in bottle and tasting really good! Once more we will be releasing this early in the New Year, to allow this vivacious youth to be of its best.
Sweets For My Sweet
Part of our plan this year is to try our hand at making some ciders which retain some of the natural sugars in the apples post-fermentation. We are going to use both the Normandy and the rural methods to achieve this. We've been waiting for colder weather to come – 10 C or lower – on which, to a great extent the Normandy method (aka keeving) relies. The rural method is also known as the méthode ancestrale and involves multiple racking - repeatedly pumping the juice off its biomass - to reduce the yeast to zero.
Those with long memories will know we’ve done this in the past with The Unicorn and Hazy Ways Part 2. We’ll keep you posted on how it goes but just to say, using Brown Snout, we ran a trial last year (Normandy method) which definitely worked and will see the light of day next spring/early summer!
The Show Must Go On
Apart from picking and pressing, we’ve also been bottling and kegging – it’s almost like we’re running a real business sometimes! – so into keg we’ve put Table Perry, Table Cider, Disco Nouveau, Harvest 2022 and Root & Branch #6. Bottling has not be left out, with a new batch of Table Cider and the 2022 vintage of Netherwood Estate Reserve making its way into glass.
As you can tell there is a lot going on with a fair bit still to come. Grateful to have such a brilliant harvest crew this year, with Laurence, Will and Marshall from the USA, and guest appearances from our good friend and neighbour Sally.
Equipped with her freshly-minted Masters, Edina has moved on to pastures new, taking all our secrets to the mighty Aston Manor no less. Expect to see millions of litres of dry, wild fermented ciders coming out of there in due course! Missing you Edina but wishing you all the very best in the new job.
That’s pretty much it for now. Until next time – Wassail and May The Sun Be With You!