FLAVOURS OF CORNWALL: FOWEY VALLEY CIDER
PUBLISHED: 11:50 12 August 2015 | UPDATED: 13:01 30 August 2017
The banks of the River Fowey was once laden with apple trees - now one artisan producer is bringing the ancient art of cider-making back.
The banks of the River Fowey was once laden with apple trees - now one artisan producer is bringing the ancient art of cider-making back. ROSIE WILMOTT discovers more...
It’s a little known fact that just over 100 years ago, the banks and inlets of the river Fowey were laden with apple trees - a local site so beautiful that scores of Victorian day-trippers would take boat rides up the valley to see the apple blossom in spring. Now an artisan producer from the picturesque port made internationally famous by the likes of Daphne Du Maurier and Kenneth Grahame, is rekindling that romanticism from a very different perspective, and tapping into a few historical revelations as he goes.
Cider maker Barrie Gibson had been making cider for friends and family for more than 15 years, eventually making the leap to commercial scale and releasing Fowey Valley’s first 2012 vintage in December last year. Fowey Valley’s use of the Méthode Traditionelle – a labour-intensive but sworn-by method made iconic by the producers of Champagne in France – makes the product completely unique to the Fowey area, producing a clear, brut-like sparkling cider that is swaying even the most scrumpy-wary of drinkers. And, at just 7.5% ABV, it’s making waves as a fresh, more hangover-friendly alternative to the traditional breakfast toast at summer weddings and celebrations across the county and beyond.
The Méthode Traditionelle progresses over more than two years – the young, newly-fermented cider is bottled and left for its secondary fermentation after a year in barrels. Following a further year in the bottle to achieve its customary sparkle through its secondary fermentation, the cider is then put to rest for several weeks in specially-crafted racks (known as pupitres’) at a gentle tilt. The bottles are then turned individually by hand each day, allowing the sediment to slowly make its way to the neck. After several turns, the bottles are disgorged, removing the sediment plug and leaving the remaining crystal-clear cider.
As a member of Fowey’s local history group, Barrie investigated the practice of cidermaking in Cornwall and beyond before the launch of Fowey Valley Cider. In his research he discovered that the method for making the sturdier glass bottles that are crucial to the success of sparkling wines and ciders was actually patented by a one-time Lostwithiel MP – Admiral Sir Robert Mansell – in 1623, more than 30 years before Dom Pérignon was born.
Many people think that because Champagne originated in France, the strong, curved glass bottles that are seen as synonymous with modern-day Champagne were also invented there too’, explains Barrie. However, if the glass-making method hadn’t been recognised in Britain and patented early on, the sparkling wines and ciders that are so popular throughout the world today just wouldn’t have evolved in the same way. The French even refer to this kind of glassmaking method as verre Anglais – English glass – to this day.’
One-man team Barrie also makes batches of artisan cider vinegar which recently won Silver at the 2015 Taste of the West Awards and has been snapped up by chefs across the county hunting for new products to add to their locally-sourced larders. However, it’s the Vintage Cider Brut that’s the real star of the show.
All of the apples are from the orchard here in Golant, and within a 20-mile radius of the site, from small-scale orchards in the Fowey area”, explains Barrie. Unlike many cidermakers who use crab apple juice for its tannins and slightly bitter edge, we like to emphasise the flavours of the sweet dessert apples that grow in the area, giving a dry, crisp product that’s going down very well with everyone who tries it.’
The public aren’t the only ones enjoying the light, delicate flavours and sparkle of Fowey Valley Cider. At this year’s Royal Bath and West show, Barrie was the proud recipient of a Silver Award in the bottle-fermented cider category, which, as a peer-judged event, made the taste of success all the sweeter.
Winning an award like that is just fantastic when you’re this new to the commercial scene,’ says Barrie. It’s so encouraging to see that the quality of the product is coming through, and that fellow cidermakers - many of whom are real heroes in the world of artisan cider production - are enjoying Fowey Valley Cider as much as we are.’
Fowey Valley Cider also runs courses in small-batch cidermaking, and their Vintage Brut Cider is available from a selection of independent stockists.