Cider makers across the South West have responded to the continued absence of gatherings by launching a cyber celebration to mark South West Cider Week.
Such is the ingenuity and determination of producers around the region that a packed programme of events actually exceeds one week – stretching from Friday 12 June to Sunday 21 June.
During that time, cider drinkers and serious aficionados alike can enjoy online tastings, virtual tours, a cyber meet and greet with producers and even a drive through cider shop followed by an orchard walk.
The events are being organised by cider makers and retailers themselves, and co-ordinated through the website, www.swciderweek.org.uk and on social media using the hashtag #swciderweek.
As the oldest drink produced in the UK cider making in the South West is steeped in centuries of history. This is not by chance as it is the combination of the landscape, soil and weather that mean that apple orchards flourish in the region – especially those planted with the bittersweet fruit varieties that have made West Country ciders famous around the world. Though it is also a sector and a region noted for much of the innovation in terms of producing different styles of cider, orcharding practices and product manufacture.
The dozens of events that make up the South West Cider Week are being coordinated by the South West of England Cidermakers’ Association (SWECA).
Martin Berkeley of Pilton Cider is organising the SWECA involvement. He said: “Sharing a glass of cider in good company is a fabulous thing and vital to many of the social connections we make. It is also so important commercially for hundreds of businesses across our region.
“Whilst it might a while before we can gather in person, we were determined to see how we could still celebrate cider.
“The response, thanks to the imagination and resilience of cider makers has been fantastic and as a result, we will – virtually – invite the world to share our passion for the drink so synonymous with the South West.”
As well as showcasing the skills of cider makers and revealing the great matches with other regional produce like cheese, it is hoped that the series of events will also provide a much-needed boost to producers given lost sales through pubs and bars and the absence of tourism this summer.
The scale of the loss to producers is significant as a third of cider sales, representing two-thirds of the value, are through on-trade outlets. For 2019, that amounted to £2bn in sales (Westons Cider Report).
To amplify this effort many businesses are offering discounts for online sales and some specialist retailers are putting together mixed cases that reflect the great breath of quality drinks produced across the region.
Support for the South West Cider Week was immediately forthcoming from the body representing the UK cider industry – the biggest cider market in the world.
For the National Association of Cider Makers (NACM), Mark Hopper said: “We know that cider makers like nothing more than being able to share their craft with people – whether those consumers are new to cider or familiar with the many styles available.
“The continued absence of the chance to meet people in person is understood, though it has an impact.
“That producers right across the South West have come together to create ten days packed with different ways to enjoy cider is fantastic. We will do all we can to encourage people to join at least one of the events.”
The cider makers stepping up to the cyber challenge range from small producers new to the sector like Find & Foster and Ganley & Nash to established businesses of scale with hundreds of years of history like Sheppy’s and Thatchers Cider.
Details of the events are available at South West Cider Week and via the Twitter account, @swciderweek.
Market data from the Westons Cider Report, 2020:
- UK producers made around 783m litres of cider in 2019
- The value of sales in 2019 was worth £3.1bn
- On-trade outlets accounted for around a third of sales (38%) worth £2bn
- UK cider sales represent 37.5% of cider sales worldwide
Gordon Johncox, the chair of the National Association of Cider Makers (NACM) and the chief executive of Aston Manor Cider, addressed MPs, government officials and industry figures to outline a British success story in need of support.
Gordon outlined how collaboration across the industry by cider makers of all scales is a positive feature, though the hard-pressed sector still needs support from government.
As a relatively small industry, representing the best interests of every cider maker informs all aspects of activity of the NACM. The vision of the association is that all producers can operate successfully and fairly in a competitive market, whilst continuing to support their communities, employees and apple growers.
To enable this, he called for a balanced regulatory environment for cider makers reflecting the unique circumstances of producers. In particular, MPs, Ministers and officials were urged to deliver a consistent application of regulations.
Gordon challenged the Government’s willingness to understand the specific situations of cider makers. While headlines from the Autumn budget stated that cider duty was frozen, ciders in the middle duty band received a 25% tax increase, impacting many small cider makers.
Following his speech, Gordon commented: “Cider businesses of all sizes are working hard to deliver a sustainable future for the benefit of consumers and the rural environment. The industry is a significant part of British heritage.
“We need the support of politicians to work with us to return cider to more positive results, remove red tape and the unnecessary rules that limit innovation and investment. This support can enable cider makers produce fantastic products that interest in our category.
“We work to see every cider maker flourish and grow in line with their ambitions, whilst maintaining the highest standards. We firmly believe that with our collaborative nature and how we support one another this can be achieved when we can rely on consistent and sensible legislation.
“In recent months we have seen members providing orcharding experts when others experience weather related problems, large companies have supported smaller producers to expand their packaging ranges. When something is challenging or if advice is needed, small producers will always be supported, and to me, this is why the UK cider industry is so very special.”
The Parliamentary Cider Group Reception was an opportunity to showcase the best of British cider, which is home to the largest cider market in the world. The evening was attended by cider makers from across the South West, Midlands and further afield, as well as many MPs that represent cider making regions within their constituencies.
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Gordon Johncox, the chief executive of Aston Manor Cider, has been named as the new chair of the National Association of Cider Makers (NACM).
Addressing members of the NACM and attendees at the All Party Parliamentary Cider Group (APPCG) on Tuesday 11 September, Gordon outlined his vision to ensure a sustainable future for producers, whatever their scale.
He called for a fair and balanced regulatory environment for cider makers to operate in and asked for the support from MPs, Ministers and officials to back the UK industry – home to the largest cider market in the world.
Gordon promoted the need for a collaborative approach and all involved to give the industry the best opportunity to flourish.
Speaking about becoming chair, Gordon commented: “I’ve enjoyed a significant amount of my career in the cider industry and a great part of my life living in the cider heartland, so I am relishing the opportunity to lead the industry.
“No matter the size of the cider maker, everyone is committed to apples and agriculture – that is the most important message I want to get across. The industry is facing a number of complex challenges, but through a united approach we can certainly deliver a future that is innovative and sustainable.
“We need an excise duty structure that allows producers to grow, a robust examination of evidence in all policy issues and of course, cider makers to have the common goal to celebrate this diverse industry that provides for ever consumer and occasion – here in the UK and across the world.”
Fenella Tyler, the chief executive of the NACM, spoke about the appointment: “Gordon has been the deputy chair for two years and has already made a significant contribution. We expect he will continue to do great work to advance the interests of all cider markets for the benefit of all cider drinkers.”
Before joining Aston Manor Cider, Gordon was previously the managing director at Magners GB. He will be the chair of the NACM for two years and has replaced Helen Thomas of Westons Cider.