“You can’t imagine Devon without cider,” summed up Nick Pring, one of the two owners of Green Valley Cyder, a craft cidermaking and retail operation based at Darts Farm near Topsham, which he started with business partner Chris Coles in 1989.
Chris and Nick both held various technical and managerial positions with Whimple based cider maker, Whiteways, a company established in 1825 and which, along with Bulmers, Coates and Gaymers, represented one of the great names of English factory cider making.
By the late 1980s, Whiteways had gone the way of many a mid-sized brewery or distiller – dissected, rebranded and sold off in the drink industry’s feeding frenzy of corporate takeovers and restructures.
So in 1989, along with 200 other Whiteways’ employees, both were out of work and wondering if their specialist knowledge and skills were now as redundant as they were.
They took the decision to start a modest cider making business and began by acquiring some of the Whiteways’ equipment. They were joined in the venture by Eric Mallett and Larry Pope, both Whiteways’ casualties and both facing uncertain futures.
The point of no return came when their redundancy monies were spent on a traditional farm cider press purchased at an auction for a much higher price than anticipated. This most fundamental item of capital investment had been in use at Plum Tree farm in Weston-super-Mare and was manufactured specifically for Balls Farm in Ide, Exeter in 1942. Two oak fermentation vats were purchased from Whiteways, each standing 10 feet tall with a 15ft diameter and holding around 5000 gallons.
With basic business skills acquired at the Exeter Business Club and after a night in the pub settled on the business entity of Green Valley Cyder. In the autumn of 1989 the initial batch of Stillwood Vintage Cyder was made, the first in a full range of what would become award-winning cider products.
There were no plans for retailing at that time although increasingly there were knocks on the back door from customers asking to be “filled up with scrumpy”.
Green Valley Cyder was started with a set of core cider making principles that have been maintained. Each autumn only fresh Devon Cider apples are used, the majority locally sourced from established farm orchards in East Devon.
To make a good cider requires the right balance in the varieties used – sweetness, acidity and the right proportion of tannin to provide body, taste and colour. Fortunately there is still a wide variety of real cider apples in East Devon that provide these characteristics.
Chris visits the orchards used to give advice on pruning and to establish the sort of relationship with the farmer that will ensure deliveries of the fruit are of a high quality.
The apples are selected for the type of cider they will make, they are milled and layered onto the cloths and racks to form “the cheese” which is then pressed to release the juice. A ton of fruit will produce about 150 gallons of juice, ready to make into cider. The juice is fermented using the naturally occurring yeast present on the apples, then a long, cool fermentation allows the full Devon Cider characteristics to develop and mellow. Have a look at our video to see the full cidermaking process.
After over 20 years, Green Valley Cyder is very proud to be maintaining the true art of traditional Devon cider making. This has been recognised and awarded on many occasions. In May 2008 Green Valley Farmhouse Vintage Cyder was awarded the National Gold at the CAMRA National Champion Cider & Perry Competition in Reading.
In 1999, 2004 and 2009 we were awarded Champion cider makers at the Devon County Show and First prize at the Royal Bath & West of England Show in 2005.