[Photo: Eleanor Thatcher, fifth generation cider maker, at the orchard in Christon]
The apples come from one of the West Country’s oldest, and most influential, orchards. With its ongoing research into apple varieties, Thatchers Cider is celebrating the work of the former National Fruit and Cider Institute with its new limited edition cider.
Thatchers has blended apples from one of Somerset’s oldest and most influential orchards for its new, limited edition Christon Single Orchard Cider.
The standard orchard in Christon, nestled at the foot of the Mendip Hills, was originally planted back in 1928, and is home to traditional apple varieties including Court Royal, Frederick and Stembridge Cluster.
The Christon orchard plays a very special part of cidermaking history. It was planted by cider pioneers at the National Fruit and Cider Institute at the Long Ashton Research Station in Bristol in the early days of cider research. It was these cider pioneers who really were the founding fathers of the modern cider industry, with their ground-breaking research into apple varieties and regional growing conditions. Their work on cider making techniques, including yeast selection, is still valued by cider makers today.
Fourth generation cider maker Thatchers has harvested the orchard – that is home to 25 different varieties of apple – four times throughout the season, ensuring each variety has been captured at its perfect ripeness. The apples were taken straight from the orchard to the mill, and pressed straight away, retaining all the individual characteristics of the fruit, and the orchard.
The fresh juice was cold fermented in Thatchers’ cider barn, carefully preserving the flavour and character of the fruit. Each small batch of juice has then been blended together before being matured in oak to create the robust and full flavoured cider.
The mix of apples blended into the new, unique Christon Single Orchard cider brings a depth and complexity to this cider. Just 10,000 bottles are being produced of the 8.4% abv, medium dry, full-bodied cider.
Richard Johnson, chief cidermaker at Thatchers, says,
“I love this traditional orchard at Christon which oozes character and tradition. There’s a real mix of heritage apples here, that we’ve blended into this really bold, full bodied cider, perfect for the onset of colder days and darker evenings when a smooth, warming cider is so welcome.”
By using apples from one single orchard, the cider makers at Thatchers recognise how the soil and climatic conditions have a huge influence on the fruit’s flavour and characteristics, just as the researchers at Long Ashton did back in the early 1900s. The Christon orchard is nestled on south facing slopes at the foot of Somerset’s Mendip Hills, with a red loam topsoil over a clay subsoil. The varieties harvested from Christon orchard also include Brown Snout, Yarlington Mill, Yellow Styre, and White Close Pippin.
Liz Copas, one of the UK’s leading pomologists and formerly of the Long Ashton Research Station has helped identify all the apples – and perry pears – in the Christon orchard.
She says, “This has to be one of the most influential orchards in modern British cider making. It’s a real privilege to have the chance to walk through these trees some of which are coming up to 100 years old. All cidermakers today owe much to the work that was carried out at Long Ashton Research Station, and Thatchers have captured that essence in a bottle with this new cider.”
With its forty acres of trial orchards, including its living library Exhibition Orchard, Thatchers is carrying on the Long Ashton tradition of research into apple varieties, growing conditions and their suitability for cider making. Its “100 Tree Trial” has seen 10,000 new trees of different apple varieties planted in Thatchers own hedgerow style, with all these varieties having either performed well in the Exhibition Orchard, or having a reputation for producing excellent cider.
Richard concludes, “Trialling different apple varieties and researching how they perform in varying cider styles is such an important part of our ability to innovate and create ciders for today’s shopper. At the same time, we are able to look back at the legacy of the Long Ashton Research Station and carry that on into our work today.”