If I hadn’t owned a dog, Once Upon A Tree, and a life’s diversion into all thing cider, may never have happened.
Back in 2005 we moved to a little Herefordshire village called Putley. I began walking my dog, Molly, through the local footpaths that went through the cider orchards along the Marcle Ridge, and I was struck, not only by the beauty of the orchard landscape around me, but specifically at the quality of the apples that were growing on the trees through the immaculate and thoughtful husbandry of the grower. This was Dragon Orchard.
Molly, developed a love of chasing a windfall or two, whilst she wasn’t searching for squirrels or rabbits, and it was during those early morning autumn walks, with dew on my boots, the jewelled spider webs shimmering in the grass and trees, and the heady smell of ripening apples, where a plan began to hatch.
I knew that those apples were destined for a large scale producer, where they would join millions of other apples from around the county and beyond to be crushed, heated, pressed and concentrated, and all the care and attention that had been put into them over the growing season would be lost in the mix of a thousand orchards, and so many different varieties.
My background is viticulture and winemaking, consulting to vineyard growers and winemakers in the burgeoning English Wine scene. However, I missed getting my hands dirty. Being hands on, is so important to me, and I really wanted to be producing my own wine from grape to bottle. However, here was a possibility to do something similar from apple to glass. As a winemaker you will hear me quote “wine is made in the vineyard”, in other words, you cannot make good wine from poor grapes. Surely the same would apply to apples and cider?
So, if I had not been walking my faithful friend through those orchards, would my mind have wandered and to imagine the possibilities and potential of great cider that those apples contained?
Molly became old and eventually succumbed to illness, and she is now buried at Dragon Orchard and we planted a tree to remember her. Our new dog, Dexter, now has the run of the orchard, and has taken up the mantle to bark at the squirrels who tease him from the hedgerows, and bury his head in the long grass and brambles to sniff at rabbit holes. And that allows me that important time to let me mind wander and think of all the ways we’ll tease the character, the landscape and the season into each new batch of cider.