I first met Platon Loizou and came across Four Acres Estate at Ross on Wye Cider and Perry Festival in 2019. I tried his champenoise method ciders as well as his wonderful sparkling wines and came away with a couple of bottles. Fast forward three years and Ross Fest was back to it’s full self and Platon was once again joining the Cider Makers Saturday session. This time he brought something new, a still cider and as we got chatting I couldn’t resist sowing the seed for a Cider Review interview. So here we are with two ciders to review and some questions that Platon has kindly answered…
CR: Firstly, can you tell us a little about yourself and how you got into making cider at Four Acres Estate?
PL: It’s all in the Past. My parents had a restaurant in the East End of London, which they sold in the early 90s and retired. After several weeks I got a telephone call from my mother, at that time I was managing a Tour Operator in Central London. My mother was the chef in their restaurant and she suggested that she should come to our office and cook the lunch for the staff. She was seriously bored. During that call I realised that I needed to do something challenging in my retirement otherwise I would have the same problem.
Now Let me start at the beginning. I am of Greek Cypriot decent and I was born in London in 1954. During that time people burnt coal and as a result there was a great deal of pollution in London and people had huge health issues. I became ill and at the age of six months I was taken to Cyprus to live in a small agricultural village with my grandparents. We had a house in the middle of an orange grove. It was a paradise, you could smell the orange blossom for miles. We had all manner of fruit; oranges, figs, pomegranates, it was an amazing place to live. They also had a small vineyard.
At the age of nine I came to live with my family in the East End of London. We lived in a flat on top of the restaurant, but I never forgot the tastes and smells of that orange grove. During my business life as a tour operator my mind wondered back to that orange grove especially when under lots of pressure and stress. I always wanted to recreate that orange grove and I yearned for that simple life of growing things. Now oranges are impossible to grow in the UK but apples on the other hand ….that could happen.
That yearning for the country side never left me and in 2010 I bought a cottage which was built after the Second World War, the attraction was the four acres of land that surrounded it. Having a challenge and being kept busy was the driver in all of this experiment.
CR: Tell us about your orchard and the varieties you chose and why?
PL: I bought Andrew Lea’s book ‘Craft cider making’ and I used this book as my reference point. In 2012 I planted 200 apples trees and 2300 vines. My objective regarding the orchard was to have a good balance of cider varieties. In my mind I needed sharps, mild bittersharps, medium bitter sharps, medium bittersweets, full bittersweets and a sweet variety.
Keeping Andrew’s book in mind I purchased Dabinett, Harry Masters Jersey, Kingston Black,Yarlington Mill, Stoke Red, Porters Perfection, Foxwhelp, Browns Apple and Morgan Sweet. At that time it was all guess work but I pretty much fulfilled the criteria.
The trees were bare root from John Worle in Herefordshire. They were planted and staked in February of that year, and apart from cutting the grass and a little pruning they were left to their own devices. The trees were never sprayed, but I must tell you that we had to fence the whole property to stop the Deer devastating everything.
CR: How do you find the climate and soil in Hertfordshire affects the traditional varieties you have chosen?
PL: The climate in Hertfordshire is fine, not as ideal as Kent but to be honest this land was our only choice, it’s all we have. It’s a sunny spot which is a great advantage both for the apples and the vines. We do have late spring frosts which can be a challenge, especially for the vines.The apple varieties flower at different times so what ever the challenges with the weather we still are averaging over two tons of apples each year.
CR: Until recently all your ciders were champenoise method, why have you chosen that method in particular and what do you think it brings to the finished product?
PL: When we first started to get a decent crop in 2017 we decided to make a champenoise cider with two fermentations, the first in the tank and the second in the bottle. I wanted to make something a little different with the help of our sparkling wine maker. The other advantage was the fact that we could use some of the sparkling wine equipment.
Hertfordshire is not known for cider production but the cider passed the test and people loved it. The alcohol content was 8.4 % which was also a great selling point. Our sparkling Cider is popular locally and although it’s great fun making it it’s not particularly lucrative due to the fact that it takes two years to make. Six months in the tanks a year on lees, we then disgorge, riddle and dosage.
CR: At the Ross Cider Festival you also bough a new cider “Three Cubs”, the same blend as your sparkling but left still. Tell us a bit about it and why you decided to make a still cider?
PL: We decided to make a still cider which can be made in my opinion under a year. We launched ‘Three Cubs Cider’, named after the three fox cubs that have rid us of the rabbits at the ‘Broom Farm Cider Festival ’ (highly recommended for cider lovers) and it was well received.
CR: What are your plans for any future releases? For example, will you expand your barrel aged cider outside of whisky? [Ed: Platon has an excellent champenoise cider aged in whisky barrels which Adam and I can both testify is marvellous]
PL: We are looking at making a still cider in the autumn of this year with a view to ageing in in some interesting barrels, the process has started and I will keep you advised of our progress. It’s so nice to be planning and constantly looking how to improve our cider and make something that people really love.
CR: Other than the Ross Cider Festival, where can customers purchase your wines and ciders?
PL: We sell our cider locally but if people are interested we could always dispatch a box in the UK. We could always put together a mixed box, but the prices are as follows. Three cubs cider (still 6.5%) £36.00 per box, Champenoise dry sparkling (8.4%) £48.00 per box, Champenoise dry sparkling aged in a whisky barrel (8.4) £60 per box. Post is extra . If you are interested in purchasing our cider e-mail us on email@example.com or telephone on 07802313075.
Three Cubs Cider (6% – 2021)
Described as a full bodied dry cider
Appearance: pale mandarin
On the nose: actually very delicate nose, apple skins and orange segments, whispers of apple brandy and wooden barrels but quite mellow. As it warms stone and vine fruits come through, as peaches and white grapes.
In the mouth: oranges and a hint of delicate spice. It very well balanced where nothing quite stands out, acidity is gentle, there’s a smidge of sweetness, if anything the bitterness of the tannins is ever so slightly more pronounced. The yellow stone fruit is there, like fresh apricots but it seems somewhat thin. The flavours are slightly watered down, which feels odd to say considering there is obviously no added water here. There are some powerful punchy apple varieties in here but each of them struggles to shine through. It’s very youthful.
The downside of champagne yeast (in my experience) is that it can create a delicate flavour. It seems to dull all the extremes of the fruit and so loses the character somewhat. That’s my opinion of course and as someone who likes bold bittersweets, I can’t help but feel a little cheated by the yeast’s influence. That being said it could just be the youth of the vinatge. It’s a very easy drinking and smooth cider, but any food would certainly over power it. Would some fizz lift it? Perhaps, but I think a different yeast strain or a wild yeast may prove more fruitful (literally). As may a bit more time to develop.
In a nutshell: a well balanced blend that can be enjoyed on its own now, or given a little more time in the bottle to develop.
Dry Sparkling Cider (8% – 2019)
Described as being “traditionally crafted” this cider has been aged in tanks, followed by secondary fermentation in the bottle and lees ageing for at least 6 months to create a “dry, sparkling, smokey flavour”.
Appearance: yellow gold
On the nose: wooden barrels, smoked apples, savoury brine notes and burnt oranges
In the mouth: the orange is stronger, like pith and rind, and the spice is full of cloves and cinnamon. There’s salted and smoked meat, more prominent acidity and bitterness as well as an underlying juicy fruit character. A definite smokey character overrides the flavour profile here and the bubbles from that secondary fermentation add an edge to the acidity. It’s a grown up alternative to the “Three Cubs” for sure. That extra 2% alcohol making itself known in the legs down the glass as well as brandy notes on the palate. The level of fizz is perfect and this one demands food; cured meats and/or chargrilled vegetables.
In a nutshell: a very different and complex beast, excellent right now.
Platon is a joy to speak with and his passion to create something delicious as well as his continuous improvement approach shine through in these two ciders. They have both been executed with absolute precision, perfectly clean and technically excellent. If I had to pick a favourite though, it would be the Sparkling, there’s just a bit more to it at this point in time, more structure and complexity. Three Cubs still has a lot to offer and I would be very curious to try this vintage again in a years time.
The mad scientist in me felt like perhaps there’s a middle ground between the two and to be completely transparent, I may have tried blending them both [Ed: sacrilege]…with a 50/50 mix you get oranges, stone fruit and smidge of smoke, along with a petillant gentle fizz.
On a more serious note, as I mentioned earlier, if you are a fan of cider that has spent time in a whisky barrel then I would implore you to seek out his barrel aged méthode champenoise. There’s no doubt that the wine making methods and understanding Platon has employed have been of benefit to his cider making. We often discuss the lines between wine and cider and whether one can influence the other for the better. More to come on that in January, but if you are a wine then Platon’s sparkling wines are also superb, both the Blanc de Blancs and Rosé.
Huge thanks to Platon for taking the time to respond to our questions, especially during this busy harvest period.