Our cider orchard began on a ~3 acre green field in Grampound in 2014. It undulates from 41 to 63 meters above sea level with south and west aspects on the eastern side of the Fal Valley. The soil is moderately shallow, free draining, slightly acidic and has both low fertility and low organic matter. We spread about 10 tons of Padstow sea sand, traditionally used in Cornwall instead of lime, on the orchard to help correct pH. The sand is 25%-30% sea shells which in turn are about 97% calcium carbonate. The seashells also add trace elements. This has not worked quite as intended since bracken, which likes acid soils, still creeps in from the hedges.
Our groundwater is contaminated with nitrates by farming. Neighbouring fields are laid to grass or have spring and autumn sown crops. Free drainage means that soil moisture levels, even with 1.2m of rain annually, limit yields. Perhaps not surprisingly this part of the Fal Valley is not noted for pome fruit.
In 2014 the sward was perennial rye grass, cock’s foot, Timothy, Nardus, and lots and lots of Hordeum. Apart from docks there were very few broad-leaved species. Since then there are new species arriving each year: white clover, creeping thistle, vetches, a carpet of creeping buttercups in the spring, yarrow, geraniums, stitchworts, Silene, teasel, plantains, bluebells, dandelions, chickweeds,, purple toad flax, yellow toad flax ………………………….
Here, and at Trelissick, we have tasted and trialed many cider apple varieties. Foremost in our choice of variety is taste. Apple canker, a fungal necrosis very happy in Cornish damp, limits what may be grown. Many of our favoured British varieties such as Kingston Black and Brown Snout dislike our terroir while a few, as Somerset Redstreak, Northwood, and Major, are content.
We have found that Heritage varieties from Brittany, where the weather is similar, and Normandy thrive here. The orchard is somewhat closer to Brittany than Bristol. Our ‘local’ favourites are: Antoinette, Bedan, Bisquet, Douce Coet Ligne, Douce Moen, Frequin Rouge Petit, Kermerrien, Mettais, Muscadet de Dieppe, Petit Jaune and Rambault. In 2021 there has not been enough fruit to make a whole barrel from any single variety. Something to look forward to.
Ripeness is key to taste. ‘Ripening’ is shorthand for changes in skin colour, starch content, firmness, sugar content, acidity, flavour and aroma. Apples upon a tree ripen unevenly. The southern-facing fruit ripen before the northern, the outer ones before the inner, the upper before the lower. Here fruit on a Kingston Black tree ripens over a month. So, how do you harvest the ripest fruit to make the best possible cider? Industrially all cider apples on a tree are shaken off in a moment, whether ripe or not. Some of those dislodged will have starch levels approaching that of potatoes. We take our time, over 2 or 3 picks, and store those picked earlier so as to process all of that variety together.
Our processing gets simpler and more hands off each year. Now it is with minimal intervention, wild yeasts, low sulphur and pétillant naturel.