I once commented that I thought champagne was an overrated beverage, a comment that Adam to this day has not let me forget. As I reflect on my thoughts back then, I definitely didn’t fully appreciate the elegance and craftsmanship. Having grown up in a teetotal household, where special occasions were celebrated with fizzy grape juice, I had zero exposure to the theatrics of popping corks and the experience of drinking something so refined. Since then my opinion has been forged on mainly mediocre examples, with the odd more expensive bottle, and my view was also narrowed – or perhaps better put – limited, by just thinking about champagne. However, as I’ve started to make my own cider and talked with makers that use the traditional method with apples, as well as tasted their creations, my appreciation for the process and the final product have evolved. A long way of saying I’ve grown.
More recently Blackmoor Estate got in touch with us to share some news about Gospel Green along with a bottle of their latest release. I have to admit that I wasn’t aware of the length of time Gospel Green has been around or their place as pioneers of using the champagne method in cider; over thirty years since the first vintage, well before my time reviewing ciders and well before many of the new wave of producers we’ve had the fortune of reviewing on here. Up to now the oldest cider I’ve had the pleasure to try is a Bollhayes 2003, now I find myself wondering what the chances would be of finding a bottle of sparkling cider from the 80s. In particular a 1983 as I would happily toast my 40th this year with a cider made in the year of my birth. I don’t know of any producer that may have a few bottles of their back catalogue from that long ago lying around. However if you’re reading this and you do… please call me! [Ed: have you no shame?]
Anyway, back to the here and now, and it would be foolish of me not to have taken advantage of the opportunity to ask a few questions before tasting their latest release, and Suzanna Walters of Blackmoor Estate was kind enough to agree.
CR: Let’s start with the big news that Gospel Green has recently been bought by Blackmoor Estate, joining the fruit with the brand. How did that come about and what does it mean for the future?
GG: James Lane started producing GG in the late 1980s (1990 was the first bottled vintage); having worked in Epernay he is thought to be the first cider maker to use the exact Traditional Method process, using champagne yeast as well as dessert and culinary apples [Ed (Adam): not sure choice of yeast is part of TM process legislation, or what Percy Bulmer, amongst others, would make of this thought!]. James started his production with apples from his own garden and local orchards… the largest of those being at Blackmoor Estate. As the other orchards disappeared, Blackmoor Estate became his primary source.
When Brock Bergius took over Gospel Green in 2016, he based himself as a tenant of Blackmoor Estate sourcing 100% of the fruit from our orchards. In 2022 Brock made the decision to move on from Gospel Green and it seemed fitting to us at Blackmoor Estate to continue producing this delicious cider already being made from 100% our apples. This now allows us to produce a single estate cider.
CR: What varieties do you have on the estate and what’s the make up of a typical Gospel Green vintage?
GG: Blackmoor Estate has an annual ‘Apple Tasting’ open day in October, which in 2022 showed 18 apple varieties grown here at the estate. A wide range of traditional and modern varieties of both eating and culinary apples, such as Opal, Norfolk Royal Russet and James Grieves, are grown here as well as pears and cherries; these are all displayed at our event which attracts thousands of visitors each year. The focus for a Gospel Green vintage is on Russet, Cox and Bramley.
CR: You use Method Traditional for your Brut and Rose. Can you share a bit more about the life of a vintage, from picking the fruit to release? You’ve just released your 2018 vintage, how much time and skill goes into each bottle?
GG: Method Traditional Cider made here at Blackmoor Estate starts off like most ciders; apples are pressed to release the juice and placed in tanks for the primary fermentation, we use champagne yeast at this stage.
The primary fermentation for us here is a minimum of 4 months. Prior to bottling with a crown cap, we blend the varieties and send to the IOC for analysis, this is done to ensure the delicious cider is good enough to be served as a perfect alternative to any sparkling wine. The crown capped bottles are then left to lay horizontally for a second fermentation (this can be for as long as you like, but at least 15 months to develop completely). During this time the carbon dioxide is trapped and the sugar amounts will determine the bottle pressure. You can leave these bottles on the lees for years, the longer left the better the product (according to champagne makers).
After ageing, the bottles undergo a process called riddling, which is done to loosen the sediment so that it can collect in the bottle neck. The process involves rotating the bottles gradually, ending up with the bottles “neck-down” ready for disgorgement. Disgorgement is when the crown cap and lees (sediment) are removed without losing too much cider and a dosage is added (usually a decided amount of sugar and cider, or if making an expression, for example the GG Rose, a dosage of Pinot Noir is added).
Final corking then takes place and the bottle is ready to be enjoyed. For the 2018 vintage, it has had extra time on the lees giving more of a brioche/sophisticated flavour. We have also worked closely with both James’ and Brock’s dosage measurements to find what we consider perfect balance of sweetness.
CR: You mentioned that you’ve brought back James Lane, the original founder of Gospel Green, who handed the mantle to Brock Bergius back in 2016, to help with the 2022 vintage. Will we see any significant changes to the ciders as a result or are you just trying to stay true to the roots of the ciders that Gospel Green is known for?
GG: We are indeed staying true to the history of James’ original recipe and taking it forward with the developments from Brock; not only the branding of Gospel Green, to ensure it sits well on a shelf with English Sparkling and Champagnes, but the developed new ideas such as the Rosé and other expressions.
With many other local estates moving into planting vineyards and producing English Sparkling, Blackmoor Estate saw the opportunity to do something different, adding value to the fruit already grown here. Gospel Green cider, apple juice and producing other ciders makes sense.
CR: Blackmoor Estate also make their own cider in 500 ml, but Gospel Green is very much focused on the 750 ml finer end of the cider market. How do you feel the cider market has changed over the last few years to create more space for those styles of cider?
GG: This is something I am sure you have very much witnessed over the past few years. There is a definite change in people’s perception of “something different”. The Traditional Method cider is seen as that something!
Blackmoor Estate is producing a draft cider for its own open day and local sales, and exploring kegged options for local sales… this cider is very much at the beginning of its journey and we see a market for all ciders in the future.
CR: Do you find that marketing cider as an alternative to sparkling wine has opened up a new customer base? Or does making the link to wine hinder the ability for cider to stand on its own?
GG: Of course we believe that Gospel Green is a great alternative to a sparkling wine and cider is becoming more and more available – it feels like English sparkling ciders are due their time in the sun again – to regain the fashion-ability they had in the 17th century as a valued alternative to wine.
CR: What does the future have in store; will we see a continuation and steadying of the ship, or some new directions of travel?
GG: Effectively a bit of both, we want to continue to ensure that GG stays to its roots but we have plenty of ideas bubbling for new products developed here at Blackmoor Estate. This is the beginning of an exciting journey and we are thrilled to be able to share our plans with you.
Huge thanks to Suzanna Walters and the Blackmoor Estate cider team for answering our questions and providing a bottle of their 2018 for review.
Gospel Green Brut (2016) 8.4%
I bought this bottle to have a comparison to the newly released 2018. Bought for a ridiculous price of £7.99 from Master of Malt.
Tasting notes on the label for this vintage, which is missing on the 2018.
Appearance: pale gold
On the nose: apple skins, lemon rind and hints of gooseberry as well as plenty of honey notes.
In the mouth: Theres a welcome zing of sharp citrus like acidity and a hint of bitterness but the finish is short. Ripe green apples, with a whisper of vanilla and a slight bready character but more like shortcrust buttery pastry than brioche. With the delicate mousse there’s almost a creaminess to it, like some malolactic fermentation has created a greek yogurt and honey element to it, but it’s subtle, and there is also an element of apple compote.
In a nutshell: tasting great right now; currently available at a bargain price.
Gospel Green Brut (2018) 8%
This bottle was kindly sent by Blackmoor Estate for me to taste and review.
Appearance: light straw
On the nose: green apples, pollen and eau de vie, with hints of lemon balm.
In the mouth: lighter and fresher than the 2016. Green apples, nectarines and some light citrus, think lemon and grapefruit. There are no savoury, bready notes or any hints of the bitterness of the 2016; this is light, fruity and fresh. If I had to guess I would think this wasn’t aged on the lees as long as the 2016, but I may be mistaken. Wonderful mousse but no malolactic character either. There’s a juicy character to the finish that gives a slight perception of sweetness to my palate.
In a nutshell: superb sparkling cider showcasing the wonders of this method with eating apples.
Really interesting to compare those two vintages and see the differences. How much of it is down to time versus the current methodology and dosage I couldn’t say for definite but the 2018 certainly feels more fresh and has more of a perception of slight sweetness to me. The 2016 seems to have more of the lees aged bready character. I thoroughly enjoyed both and for slightly different reasons. If you can get hold of the 2016, then drink now and enjoy the tweaks of time. If you buy the 2018 you won’t regret it either as it tastes fantastic right now and still costs less than a bottle of Aldi champagne.
What really interests me though is the diversification that Blackmoor Estate have recognised. More often than not we see producers going the other way to try and increase the value of their cider by diversifying into 750 ml higher priced products, whereas here we have a company that started there and is now looking at draught and kegged options. Recognising the opportunity diversifying brings, in customer base and drinking experience, is where cider has the real potential for growth. Not every producer can cater to every drinker’s preferred style, but as a collective there’s plenty for everyone. Exciting times to be drinking cider.