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Wilding Cider: orchard cider makers and farmers

21st Oct 2022

Wilding Cider are cider makers, producing what a lot of folk call  Fine Cider. Their cider has a lot of thought put into it, and arguably makes the case that cider can, and should be enjoyed like wine. Wilding is run by Sam and Beccy Leach and they are based on a farm in North Somerset, near Chew Magna to the South Of Bristol. Their farm has an orchard, a market garden and various wilder bits. They also have access to other orchards they use for apples and pears. We went to see them in late September to understand more about their journey and what they’re working to achieve with Wilding.

Can you tell us a bit about your background and what you were doing before this.

S&B We’ve been here using this orchard and the market garden for four and half years now and moved in 3 years ago. We’re also in the middle of building a new farmhouse here as well as building the orchard up and developing the market garden plus bringing up Alfie, our 3-year-old boy. So we’re fairly busy but love it.

We first made some cider, for ourselves and some mates, back in 15 and fell in love with the whole process and beauty of making cider. When we first visited this orchard back in 2018 we started to understand what was here, fruit wise, and when the possibility came to buy it we jumped at it.

But before this we were running Birch restaurant in Bristol! We both always loved food, and Beccy had always had an ambition to open a cafe/restaurant. Sam did a lot of food related jobs: became a chef, was a baker, was a butcher, all to build skills to open a restaurant. But the lifestyle wasn’t right for us. We were always up against deadlines and starting afresh each day. We’d always been interested in farming as well. Running the restaurant drove an interest in growing, Birch had a market garden for veg for the restaurant. We weren’t sure whether to expand the market garden but cider offered us both farming and making something. And cider also gave us something more natural with a very different sort of deadline to working in a restaurant.

Could you tell us a bit more about the orchards you use and harvesting?

Well, it’s fairly easy to find orchards to rent or pick from but not so easy to find ones to buy, so when Westfield Farm, where we’re based, became available we jumped at it. We also have access to several other orchards in mid-north Somerset. We started renting two orchards in Compton Dando, which is not too far from here, and the crop, which is common amongst a lot of orchards, is biennial though the two orchards luckily crop on opposite years. We also use some orchards around Ditcheat which is where Sam was brought up. We tend to do a lot of work on the trees in exchange for access to the fruit, and we’re always on the lookout for new opportunities.

We pick all our fruit from the floor, so it can be quite labour intensive. We do have a machine to help prepare the ground for picking here at Westfield but otherwise it’s all by hand. At harvest time we have a small team who help us with the harvest and the pressing, and each year we pick about 25-30 tons. All our Cider is pressed and fermented at a small place near here.

Has the picking season begun for you?

We picked the first batch a couple of weeks ago- some Moorcroft pears which we’re really excited about. We haven’t picked them before and are really looking forward to the perry they produce- we’ve got high hopes! And then the rest of the harvesting and picking starts in the next week or so, and we’ll continue into late November, maybe even into December.

And once you’ve pressed the juice, you just let Nature take its course?

Yes, we have no intervention. The juice/cider sits on the lees, sweet ones we’ll rack off during fermentation but the others we leave to rack just at end of maturation. From pressing to bottle it’s at least 1 year - 3-6 months fermentation plus 3-6 maturation plus 6-9 in bottle.

And how did you learn about making cider, particularly natural cider making?

There are quite a few courses available for mainstream cider making, but not really for what we do. So, we did a lot of reading, and also got a lot of advice and help from cider makers out there like Tom at Olivers, Mike & Isy at Barley Wood, William & Anna at Smith Hayne and others.

What are your thoughts on what you produce going forwards? Any interesting experiments to undertake?

Well, to be honest we ‘re focused on what we can do with apples, and pears, and what they can give. We have plenty to be getting on with, so for example we have been planting some Dymock Red to try and see what they can do for us. And then we’d also love to understand and work more with the impact of Terroir on cider and perry. There’s an awful lot known about Terroir in wine, but not in cider. There’s been some research but not alot.

What’s the worst and best part of cidermaking for you guys?

Oh, the worst has got to be getting stuck in an orchard in November. Wet and cold, we were trying to get out of the orchard on a slope, we had a trailer behind the car and got stuck. So, we managed to get a tractor to come out but then that ends up getting stuck too. Absolute nightmare. And then cleaning down after pressing, that’s horrible. Its dark, cold and wet. Urgh.

But the best bits more than make up for the worst though. Being outside, seeing the seasonal changes – we spend a lot of time working the trees and that is very satisfying- pruning then seeing the trees blossom, the fruit growing etc. Very satisfying and it feels very pure, very natural.

Your favourite cider you make?

Sam: The  Yarlington Mill Stoke Red- bone dry with light sparkle. Beccy: Our Eau De Vie- it’s just gorgeous. Sam: Oh, and  Marl. A really well balanced cider- love it.

Favourite apple?

Stoke Red for cider, better growing compared to Kingston Black which is another favourite., Ashmead’s Kernel works well both for eating and in cider, Reinette Obry for eating.

Favourite food to have with cider?

You can’t go wrong with cheese, esp Somerset cheddar, or oysters! And Fish and Chips with dry cider. Lovely.

What’s next?

We’ve started to make some Brandy and some Pomona which is very exciting. We’re hoping the Pomona should be available for this Christmas.

Check out our range of Wilding Cider here

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