RG 2007 June
| This page is part of The Cidermaking Year by Rose Grant
June , 2007
Followers of my wiki blog may be wondering what has happened about the further mechanisation of my little cider works. The answer is not a lot, I'm afraid to say.
full time job
I really had no idea how much busier I would become with the packaging and selling of the cider. It has left very little time for anything else. In March and April I did a lot of chasing around finding new outlets. This little campaign was successful and I managed to increase from the eight outlets I had last year to 16 this year. On the face of it, this seemed to be ideal for coping with the output which had also doubled from 35 hl to 70 hl in the same period. The thing I had not reckoned on was the general increase in cider drinking coupled with the unusually warm weather in April. The result was that If I was not here packaging cider, I would be on the road delivering it. The cider had become a full time job in itself, just as it had been in the pressing season. The weeds in my garden grew arrogantly taller with every week that passed and the elevator and washing pit became a forgotten dream.
drinking pubs and foodie pubs
This year has been an education. During my sales drive I developed a feel for which pubs were brewery owned and to be avoided. Having now sold 50 hl to the various free houses that welcomed the product, I have learnt to distinguish still further. By and large there are foodie pubs and there are drinking pubs. The foodie pubs really exist to sell bottles of wine with their meals and are really restaurants by another name. I don't know how much beer they sell but I'm lucky if they each sell more than a box of my cider per month. The drinking pubs, I'm glad to say, are remarkably different, often getting through two or three boxes per week. Drinking pub landlords hate to run out and are soon on the phone asking for a delivery when they are down to their last box. Realistically they will usually order 3 to 8 boxes at a time, which is great because it spreads my delivery costs. Foodie pub landlords, on the other hand, often run right out and sometimes even forget to reorder. Cider seems to be way down in their list of priorities. Most will only buy one box at a time. I've found that as long as I'm prepared to keep visiting to ask if they need more, it is possible to maintain a continuous supply, but it takes up much valuable time and diesel.
I've no longer any fear of having the tanks still full in October, so have become more rational about sales and now just wait for the drinking pubs to phone. Seven of my 16 outlets I would class as drinking pubs. Their requirements alone will probably run me dry by the end of July. ( I will be careful to put aside the boxes that have been ordered for local events and for the GBBF and Peterborough in August. )
The miserable weather in May also helped to slow the pace and once our festival was over I started thinking about where I want to go with the mechanisation. I got a chap with a JCB to come and take a big chunk out of the bank at the garage end of the barn, This is where the new apple washing tank is going to go. A stack of concrete blocks near by, are destined to become the tank walls. Another heap of walling stone will be used to make an outer, dry stone wall like, cladding so that the tank will blend into the garden scene. The idea is that this tank will connect via a gully to the tank at the foot of the elevator, situated behind the barn. The wash tank will be positioned to one side of the drive so that it will be convenient for me to reverse the trailer up to it. I am much happier with reversing when I only have to go straight back! it is going to mean getting down to some heavy work in the next few months, but hopefully it will all be worthwhile.
Last week I bought a second hand tipping trailer. It should be ideal for apples once I've had some framed mesh, extension sides made. These are needed to increase the capacity. This weekend I advertised the Ifor Williams livestock trailer that has served me well for 15 years. It went to a nice small-holding couple, of the 'John Seymour persuasion'. They will find it a lot easier to load with sheep, than ever I did with apples. Even so, it was like saying goodbye to an old friend as I watched them tow it away. Then it occurred to me that a new era had begun. No more shoveling!! It seemed an appropriate occasion to celebrate; an excellent time to open Andrew's 'bottle conditioned', that he kindly gave me at Putley. Time for the 'Maestro' I thought and knew I'd not be disappointed. What a delight, indeed! It had the perfect amount of sparkle and a gorgeous flavour. Then came the warmth of the alcohol which produced a pleasant glow, in which a vision of the new washing pit seemed to materialise before my eyes! An inspirational cider, Andrew! How I wished it could do the actual building work as well.
One of the nice things about festivals is the swapping of bottles with other producers and friends. I've quite a collection here from the May events. it is really nice to enjoy them one at a time as the mood takes me, sometimes reflectively like yesterday, sometimes as a pleasure to be enjoyed when friends pay a visit. What a fine hobby this is!
I'm saving your impressive trio to celebrate 'dry tanks', Roy!
Pub cycle challenge
Ni's challenge reminded me of an amusing bit of pub chat I became involved with last week.
I was delivering to two of my favourite good drinking pubs, The Anchor at Shapwick and The Vine at Pamphill. It is possible to go from one to the other along leafy, and in places very narrow lanes though the valley of the River Stour between Blandford and Wimborne. I love to do this and take great satisfaction in avoiding the two busy main roads that run parallel to the river on either side. Being a warm day, I was glad of a refreshing half of ale at the Anchor. Four miles further on I was still in need of refreshment on reaching the Vine at Pamphill. It was muggy as well as warm, so after wheeling the boxes round to Linda's cellar I was more than ready for another half. It was good to rest awhile in her comfy little bar and discover the delight of her latest guest bitter.
Linda had thatchers in. Nothing to do with the cider of that name and nothing to do with her roof. Unlike most of the houses in Pamphill, the Vine has a slate roof. Thatching must be a very thirsty job and I've often noticed how easily thatchers can put a few away! These two were no exception. I expect they had just climbed down from the baking roof of one of the nearby cottages. I always find an easy rapport with thatchers having had many conversations with those who have worked on our own place and we were soon chatting about our respective crafts. They were amused to hear that the thatchers who did our cottage two years ago keep on revisiting for more cider. Thatchers often have a great fondness for 'proper cider' and we reminisced about a thatcher called Andy Banwell who once lived and worked in this area who used to make his own cider. He used to collect his apples from wherever he could and was always pleased to accept windfalls from the gardens of cottages that he thatched. I imagine that he scheduled his work so that places with the most promise were done in the autumn.
The Rosie Challenge
There were a few others in the bar listening to this conversation including a chap I remembered from a previous visit, called Paul. He had told me how much he enjoyed drinking my cider. I was even more impressed because I had noticed that he drunk it from one of those tall German 1 litre beer glasses that Linda kept specially for him under the bar! The conversation had by now taken more of a turn towards cider as Paul became involved. Linda who had been quietly serving the drinks, suddenly said " Paul, tell her about the Rosie Challenge!"
The story then emerged of a sort of inter pub competition that had been held a few weeks ago. I suppose it must have arisen as a wager but the idea was to drink half a pint of Cider by Rosie at the Vine, cycle 4 miles down the afore mentioned leafy lanes to the Anchor, have another half of the Rosie there, then cycle back to the Vine. The winner would be the one who could do this the most number of times. Linda thought it was all good fun and thinks that it will become an annual event. (Could do us both a bit of good).
32 mile cycle
Paul modestly acknowledged that he was the only one who managed to do the challenge four times and was therefore declared the winner. He said that the cycling must have been fueled by the cider because it had no effect on him at all. However he had such a thirst when he got back to the Vine after the final run that he drunk four pints straight off! He was probably in need of its anaesthetic properties as I expect his bottom was hurting a bit after 32 miles along those bumpy roads.
I did not think to ask if by pints he actually meant litres!
Petition to MPs
Our MP for North Dorset, Robert Walter has replied to my petition. He has contacted Neil Parish, MEP for the South West who replied that he had been contacted by other small producers in his area (Well done folks!). I have been sent a copy of our MEP's reply.
Neil Parish, in response to this general concern, has been talking to the NACM and the European Commission. He states that the NACM "Have assured him that they are firmly in support of the craft scale cider maker". This we knew, since it was well thrashed out following the original incorrect information that was posted here. With regard to the EC he states:
"From what I understand, within the Commission working group at present there is good will toward extending special conditions to small traders. However we cannot escape the fact that the UK is currently acting 'ultra vires' in allowing the 70 hl exemption since it is not authorised under the Directive. We therefore have to tread carefully with regard to raising this officially with the Commission, because it increases the chance that they will feel obliged to take action against the UK and demand immediately that the UK stop allowing cider makers < 70 hl to escape duty"
This reads to me like our usual British penchant for 'pussy footing around' prior to being dictated to by Brussels. Can anyone imagine the French 'treading carefully' about an issue concerning their small farmers?
Evidently Neil Parish has been carefully ascertaining the present position. He has forwarded a copy of the reply to an email that he sent to the EC Taxation and Customs Union on 16 May 07. The gist of this is that their working group will be discussing the current provisions for small producers and look at the possibility of having a "more coherent framework". So far they have had one meeting, two more are planned and then there will be a seminar involving all member states at the end of this year, or early in the next.
The seminar will no doubt be the big crunch where battle stations are adopted. I can't help thinking that it could be too late by then. We must make that working group fully aware of our passionate opposition to the loss of this important concession, whilst the subject is still being debated in their preliminary meetings. We must do this by all means possible.
I have been heartened by Robert Walter's searching response. He is a notable champion of rural matters. I think he must have also been in touch with the local papers. Yesterday I was quizzed for an hour on the phone by a reporter preparing an article on the subject.