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A Spotlight on Ripe

Ripe are brand new cider makers based in St Veep, Cornwall, who have just released their first cider: Mother Orchard 2020. I’d actually only heard of them very recently after seeing them pop up on Gabe Cook’s Instagram after he visited. The pictures he shared of beautiful oak barrels in the Cornish sunshine certainly piqued my interest. So when Cameron from Ripe got in touch and asked if he could send a bottle of their first release I was only too happy to oblige, but I couldn’t help but ask if they’d answer a few questions as well. He was very kind in agreeing to provide some answers, so the interview is included below with a few wee editing tweaks, mainly to tidy up my rambling questions.

CR: Let’s start with an introduction: tell us about how you and Georgie got into cider making?

Cameron: We decided to leave our careers in London in search of a life more aligned with our values. Although we enjoyed our jobs, I was a head brewer at Brixton Brewery and Georgie was a sustainability recruitment consultant, we were still living for the weekends/ holidays and were pretty big consumers. It was on a family holiday in Cornwall that we made the decision to convert a van into a camper and go WWOOFing around Europe (volunteering on organic farms). We are still living in the van today.  Living off the land and farming had always been of interest and when done in the right way, seemed to tackle a lot of issues around food sovereignty and climate change. 

However, we had no experience of the reality of this way of life so set off to see if we could make it work.  A couple of months into the trip and we were hooked. Working in a sustainable way with the land felt like a proactive approach to the climate crisis and we loved the way of life and working together. We  wanted to start our own small holding/farm, but didn’t know how to make a living. While at a wwoof host in Sierra Nevada, Spain I was reading one of his books all about orchards and how traditionally managed, unsprayed orchards are now a rare habitat and amazing for biodiversity and the wider environment. I had, in the past, made a couple of batches with my family but didn’t really know anything about the world of cider, so began researching and discovered the amazing low intervention scene that was emerging in the UK. Wild fermented, barrel aged beers were always the most exciting  beers for me and so I had a light bulb moment;  I could still make a fermented alcoholic beverage but work with the seasons, from the land, with a singular raw ingredient and very little energy requirements; a seriously ecological,  low impact drink with so much incredible history and culture! We could protect existing orchards and plant new ones. 

Once back in the UK I did the Peter Mitchell Master class foundation before helping Sam and Becky from the amazing Wilding Cider for their 2020 harvest season. We learnt and continue to learn so much from them. We also very briefly helped Matt and Polly at Find and Foster, they’ve also been an endless source of help and advice. We’ve found the cider world to be so generous and welcoming! 

CR: So why did you pick Cornwall to settle after your travels?

Cameron: We picked Cornwall because there is a great regenerative farming and food scene down here. There is a strong like minded community of people with so much passion and knowledge trying to do things differently. It is also a beautiful place with incredible landscapes which is good for the soul. I’ve also been coming to Cornwall every year since the age of 9 so feel a strong connection to the place.

CR: Is there a story behind the name “Ripe”?

Cameron: Not particularly. We needed a name that wasn’t place specific as we didn’t have a permanent cidery yet. We brainstormed lots of ideas using Cornish words but they all seemed a bit appropriated. We wanted something simple and came up with Ripe one night in the van while cooking, we assumed someone would be using it already but they weren’t (maybe that was a sign)! It also stands as a good reminder that when you are producing full juice wild fermented cider you want the fruit to be super ripe. It also evokes the idea that something is going to be juicy, tasty and at its prime.

CR: Tell us about your equipment set up and fruit, what are you using and why?

Cameron: We have the classic yellow speidel scratter, then a 250l hydropress press. I like that the hydropress has minimal moving parts and needs no power so there is less to go wrong and a big plus is that it’s silent! On the fermentation side I love working with barrels, the interaction with the wood, the micro oxidation and the character that can be imparted by the previous occupant plus the pleasure of removing the bung and taking in that first hit of aroma is a joy; I wish it was possible to bottle that experience. We have 11x 228l burgundy barrels which have previously had 4 fills at a winery in France, mainly chardonnay and a couple of pinot noir. Then two stainless steel tanks, one 500l and one 1000l.

CR: Your first release which were tasting here is called “Mother Orchard blend”. Can you tell us more about this orchard and what varieties have gone into this bottle?

Cameron: The orchard is called the ‘Mother’ orchard in the Tamar Valley which is a specimen orchard planted to preserve rare Cornish and west country varieties from the surrounding area. Some of these varieties could have been lost forever if it were not for the work of James Evans and Mary Martin who collected,  propagated and documented these varieties in their book “A Cornish Pomona”. The Mother Orchard has c.230 cider trees and we selected about 8 or so varieties by taste and measuring their sugar content as they aren’t widely known.  I would describe a lot of the Cornish varieties we used as mild bittersharps. 

‘Grow-bi-nights’ is a variety originally found in Landrake near Saltash and stands out as one of the more tannic choices with a decent acid back bone. Then very similar to that but a bit milder is ‘Gooch’s Seedling’. We also added a fair amount of ‘Pig’s Snout’ which I would say is more of a sweet, found on a farm near Callington believed to be the lost Cornish variety “Best in England”. ‘Lizzy’ and ‘Jackson’s cider’ are small, pale green and ripen to yellow and both have a very bitter bite to them with underlying acidity. A couple of apples that I would describe as very mild bitterweets were ‘Haye Farm 1’ and ‘2’ both unique varieties to the farm of that name.

CR: Do you have plans for your own orchard or will you always be sourcing fruit from others?

Cameron: We would love to plant our own orchard and plan to in the future if we gain access to our own land. We would really like to plant Cornish varieties to preserve and promote them. It would also be amazing to have  enough of one variety to really discover the individual characteristics they bring. However, I do think it may be wise to have lots of diversity in the orchard, planting  varieties that may be able to cope with a hotter more erratic climate in the future. This could be tricky!

CR: Is this release typical of what you’re hoping to create going forward or part of a wider planned repertoire? What’s your hope for Ripe cider?

Cameron: Yes it will be. We plan to always make wild fermented, full juice cider in 750ml sharing bottles but explore other styles as well as pet nat. I think pet nat can create something really zippy, crisp and intriguing with the fruit we have down here and I love that it is minimal intervention/processing. We have recently bottled several barrels pet nat style which we hope to release later this year.  We have also just bottled a couple of 2020 barrels method traditional but with the aim of roughly half as much carbonation as you would expect from Champagne as we prefer this level. Working with the Cornish fruit I’m trying to find the different ways we can play with the acidity; I’m really interested in extended ageing on the lees and batonage to create texture and achieve MLF to compliment and balance the acidity, but also to celebrate it! 

We would love to try some keeving next year and see how that works with the fruit. We had a poor harvest last year in Cornwall so didn’t experiment with keeving as we didn’t want to loose any volume. Our hope for Ripe is to continue working with Cornish heritage varieties, experimenting with the different ways we can celebrate them. However, one of the happy outcomes of the poor Cornish harvest was that we had to go further a field for apples to our friends at Ross on Wye in Hereford and Smith Hayne in Devon. We are really excited with how the combination of the more well known bittersweet fruit from these orchards is working with our more acidic Cornish fruit, and are open to more cross county blends/collaborations in the future. It allows us to explore other styles of cider, for example we have 2 barrels of 75% ‘Harry Masters Jersey’ from Hereford  blended with 25% Cornish varieties currently fermenting in ex pinot noir barrels which we plan to bottle still. As it’s just the two of us we have no plans to go over 7,000L anytime soon.

Huge thanks to Cameron and Georgie for sharing their cider and answering my questions. Such an interesting story and journey that’s only really just begun. Cannot wait to follow and see more from Ripe. 

Now onto the tasting and as we have a rule here at Cider Review that we won’t review a bottle on it’s own I have dug out a bottle I was saving from Little Pomona as a comparison. It’s the first thing I thought of when I sniffed Ripe’s Mother Orchard, so it had to be done.

Ripe – Mother Orchard Blend 2020 (6.5%)

No added sulphites, fermented in an ex natural orange wine barrel and bottled before primary fermentation had finished, so Pétillant-Naturel. Varieties explained above. 

How I served it: out of the fridge for 20 mins, great level of carbonation

Colour: cloudy orangeade

On the nose: rich apples and french oak barns, along with jasmine, honeysuckle, citrus pith and a whisper of vanilla and spice.

In the mouth: really juicy and bursting with stone fruit, think peaches and nectarines. As well as ripe apple flesh and mandarines. Well structured tannins that give some mild chalky texture to the mouthfeel along with some bitterness. There’s an ever so slight hint of oxidation from the barrel that adds a little tang to the citrus like acidity, but this is a well balanced creation that is only going to improve in the bottle. It’s very reminiscent of Little Pomona’s creation and went gloriously with some homemade vegetable samosas and orange cake. 

In a nutshell: buy and drink now or save, this is a great first release. 

Where can you buy it?

At the moment it’s online and in store at both Coombeshead Farm Shop shop in Lewannick, Cornwall and Pullo in Exeter and in a couple of restaurants; Salon in Brixton and their new restaurant Holm in Somerset. 

Little Pomona – Orange Cider 2019 (7.7%)

Still, dry blend of Dabinett (67%), Harry Masters Jersey (31%) and perry (2%). It spent six months in four white wine barrels – three Sauternes and one Meursault. Adam has reviewed this one in the past, which you can read here.

How I served it: cellar temperature

Colour: tangerine dream with a slight haze

On the nose: oak and leather with oranges, cloves and cinnamon spice. Then vanilla and apple brandy, lots of calvados spirit like notes.

In the mouth: as marvellous as I remember. I immediately regret opening the bottle as when I finish it, I have no more. Juicy orange citrus fruit with a side of nectarines followed by vanilla beans and smooth oak. Perfectly balanced and structured with a slightly chalky or wet slate texture. I get that savoury hint that James and Susanna mention on the label but to me it’s more saline or brine than leather. The finish is full of fruit and that creamy vanilla. Definite similarities to the Ripe but a bit more rounded and smoother. 

In a nutshell: the best pider money could buy.

Where can you buy it?

Nowhere…sorry. If you didn’t buy a bottle when it was released last year then you have missed out, it’s sold out in every online bottle shop I searched. 

Conclusion

Rather short and sweet this week…Excellent first release from Ripe and exciting to see another producer in Cornwall. Their focus on continuing to preserve and celebrate forgotten Cornish varieties is highly commendable as is there approach to living and their impact on the planet. It’s a pretty bold move to change careers let alone sell up and live on the road/off the land. Second thing to comment on (and to bring in the Little Pomona) is how well both of these blends have taken on and worked with the influence of their ex-wine barrels. I think the collaboration of oak, wine influence and tannic cider apples really works. I really hope Little Pomona are able to recreate something that resembles their 2019 Orange Cider. As for Ripe, I’m really excited to see how their journey continues and what they release in the future. One to watch readers!

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