There’s some seriously good stuff coming out of Cornwall at the moment.
That wasn’t necessarily always the case. Some very decent stuff being made quietly, perhaps, but to less fanfare. With less confidence maybe?
In the last few years though, some truly first rate producers have started peeping through the woodwork. We’ve covered a few of them here before; the likes of Gould, Ripe, Trevibban Mill to name just three off the top of my head. I read excellent things about Crackington too, and as is always the way I’ll remember a couple more as soon as I’ve logged off.
Which is brilliant news for Cornwall, brilliant news for cider drinkers, and brilliant news for me, as we have a Cornish producer lined up today whose wares I have yet to taste (hopefully I’ll rectify that soon).
Vagrant is, in maker James Fergusson’s own words, nascent, but is making a lot of the right sounds and showing a lot of the right pictures on their instagram page. Despite a burgeoning cider scene, there’s not all that much perry made in Cornwall, the outstanding Gould notwithstanding, so I’m especially interested in what James has to share.
CR: Introduce yourself and your company.
James: Vagrant Cider, nascent production specialising in wild fruit.
CR: How did you come to start making perry?
James: I think if you make cider, to make Perry feels like a logical extension of that process. Certainly, for me, cider came first and I regarded the process of making Perry as something of a dark art. Anecdotally there seemed to be so much which could go awry. In the end it was just a question of suck it and see. I enjoy Perry from other producers enormously and just wanted a piece of the action.
CR: Tell us about where you are. Its connection to perry and pear trees. The landscape (perhaps even the terroir!) and any perry culture (or lack thereof).
James: I am in West Cornwall. There’s no connection to Perry or pear trees at all, in fact it’s relatively rare to find pear trees in Cornwall. Certainly in terms of wild fruit. I know of the existence of five fruiting wild pear trees in the whole of Cornwall and the Perry made from those has yielded some interesting results but the quantities are negligible. One tree on the south coast yielded just enough fruit last year to press a gallon! I think there is a growing desire however to explore the possibility for Perry made in Cornwall. Certainly Gould in Grampound Road have planted decent numbers of Perry varieties from both sides of the Channel.
CR: Tell us about some of the pear varieties you work with. How they are to grow and work with and the different flavours they bring? Tell us about any of your favourites, and the styles of perry you make with them.
James: The fruit from the wild tree mentioned above was described by a conspirator as tasting like a sloe made of bog roll and the resultant Perry tasted like the Perry Tenant’s would make. Actually it’s brilliant. The single Perry we made enough of to bother with, La Duchesse, is made with Duchesse d’Angoulême pears, an enormous dessert variety, in this instance used as pollinators in a William block in Kent. The pears were combined with about 5% Evereste crab apples, again as pollinators in a nearby Gala block. The resultant Perry is light and elegant, lacking astringency but with a late rounded tannic finish. I absolutely love it and will definitely be making more all being well. It’s a bit of a nuisance that the fruit is over 300 miles away, but the results were worth the aggravation it turns out.
CR: What are the challenges you find in working with perry? Making, growing and selling?
James: It would definitely be nice to have fruit closer to hand, but we’re working on that. Can’t comment on the other aspects of this question as we’re not there yet really.
CR: What is it that inspires you about perry? What do you love about it, both as a maker and a drinker?
James: It has a softness often lacking in the cider we can make from acid driven Cornish fruit. I guess in other makers, knowing the little I do now, if you can make decent Perry, it demonstrates a pretty serious attitude to every aspect of the process. There’s no room for complacency or the finished product let’s you know immediately.
CR: And what is your greatest frustration around perry?
James: How far it has to come in public awareness as a serious drink to find a deserved place at table.
CR: Your perfect perry and food pairing – and/or the time you most like to drink perry?
James: For me, not a pub drink. For various reasons. I really like it with creamy pasta dishes, or food with decent mushroom content and it holds up as well as any wine.
CR: What would you most want to tell a new drinker about perry to convince them to try it?
James: Why wouldn’t you?
CR: And, finally, what is your all-time favourite of your own perries … and your all-time favourite from another producer?
James: 2020 Oldfield keeved from Heck’s in Somerset. Just can’t get enough. I think I got through about 20 bottles and have four laid down I’m trying every day not to guzzle.
Really enjoyed the Blakeney Red from Artistraw recently too.
Then the From the barrel room aged in rum barrels from Oliver’s this year. What a drink.