We really do get excited when people get in touch with us here at Cider Review HQ, one of the main reasons for doing what we do is to keep the conversations and cider community growing. So when Kate from Purbeck Cider got in touch about a new and very intriguing release, we had to take the opportunity to ask a few questions and hear more about what they’re doing down in the Isle of Purbeck. We’ve featured them on here before when Chris tasted through their canned line up, but today we’ve got something a little more unusual to taste…
CR: Can you tell us a bit about the story behind Purbeck Cider? How an experiment turned into a fully-fledged cider business with availability nationwide.
PC: It really is one man’s dream to work the land and build his own business from scratch. Having grown up on his family’s dairy farm, Joe spent his youth in fields and on tractors. With the support from the family to grow his own orchards and after extensive research into Dorset apple growing, Joe was keen to put Dorset back on the map for quality Cider production. Sheer grit and determination have led Joe and the Purbeck Cider Company to where it is today. Joe has set high standards for himself and the team and we like to think the results are clear in the products and in our customer service.
CR: In the beginning your fruit was sourced from other local orchards, but since then a tremendous amount of work has been put in at the farm. Can you tell us about the orchard development over the years and why it has been such a focus?
PC: Joe’s passion is farming and the cider company has grown from his desire to produce from the land, so naturally orchard growing was always high on the agenda. In the early days of developing skills and products buying in fruit was essential and even today we enjoy working with fellow orchard growers, having several under contract to us.
Initially the home farm provided the land where Joe chose more traditional full standard varieties to cut his teeth on (and they conveniently allow his sheep to graze beneath them).
On moving to the Dorset Cider Farm 7 years ago planting was our primary focus. After extensive preparations 6,000 trees were planted across 15acres, our main bush orchard to date. Here we have incorporated the historic Dorset variety- Tom Putt. Following this we have planted another bush and full standard apple orchard, and, both full standard and bush perry orchards. Just this year we planted 350 bush perry trees. It is safe to say we have been rather busy! But, managing the land and supporting historic varieties is a very rewarding part of the job that we love. There is a great sense of pride to have produced a product from start to finish.
CR: What can you share about the terroir in your piece of Dorset? What does the landscape and weather contribute to your drinks?
PC: The terroir in the Isle of Purbeck varies greatly- geologically due to the uplift of the tectonic plates (visible at the well-known Lulworth Cove) and climatically due to the topography and marine nature of the landscape. It presents both opportunities and challenges for us at both our orchard sites. At the Dorset Cider Farm where we have around 25acres of apple and a further 7acres of perry trees the land is predominantly sands. Our main bush apple orchard is planted across an area of Parkstone Sand with some clays and our perry is over Broadstone and Oakdale Sands. The sands allow for ease of planting, extensive root development and good drainage (reducing the chances of wet feet in the young trees). At the family farm in Kingston, we have around 7acres of full standard trees over Peveril Point Limestone and mudstone. Limestone is known to provide excellent nutrition for plants enhancing their lifespan and supporting vigorous growth.
It is well documented that the Isle of Purbeck has something of a microclimate. The steep cliffs of the coast means that much of the weather is forced up and passes over us leading to lower-than-average rainfall for the region but also less frosts and cold winds. Therefore, we enjoy warmer summers and mild marine temperatures year-round affording the trees higher sugars and a more developed flavour profile. Our Orchards are in sheltered positions with good surrounding woodland and hedging but with good camber to allow high levels of sunlight. Our main 15acre orchard is on low lying undulating land that is warm but can experience strong South Easterly winds through the valley. As a result, we have planted a wind break of evergreens.
The pedigree Shropshire sheep, who are known for grazing orchards, now reside in the bush orchards post-harvest and through winter, clearing up the remaining apples, managing the grassland and adding nutrition to the soil in manure. Through the spring and summer when sap is rising the bush orchard vegetation is cut mechanically and allowed to munch down to increase nutrient levels in the soil. In the full standard orchard’s, the sheep graze year-round, keeping the vegetation at bay and allowing the trees to flourish without competition.
CR: Over the last few years your range has evolved from bottles to cans and now into 750ml collection. What have been the reasons behind that direction of travel for Purbeck Cider?
PC: Joe was always keen to work with pubs so he actually started with a focus on kegs and being on tap to build brand awareness and get people drinking our ciders. However, as fashions have changed the demand has grown our 500ml bottled ciders. A traditional squat bottle with a crown cap, this is a product that suits pubs, farm shops and your home fridge alike. Blending for our bottled ciders allows for a high-quality finish and consistency in flavour which we hope helps with brand loyalty.
As an alternative to our bottled ‘Dorset Range’ we have developed our sparkling character range introducing some of our traditional different blends and bringing us into the craft can revolution.
We produced a vintage 2016 Perry in 750ml bottles which won a great taste 3 gold star award. Its popularity meant we sold out rather quickly and gave us the confidence to move forward and explore table ciders.
Our Kings Hill Collection takes a leap forward in sophistication with the use of the champenoise methode. This aging process provides an improved depth of flavour and a soft complimentary champagne sparkle.
CR: What can you tell us about the Kings Hill Collection and how it came about?
PC: Joe has had the Kings Hill concept in his sights for some time. It marries together his desire to ground the cider in local history and links back to the home farm and cidery. Our orchards provide a good volume of different single varieties allowing the evolution of products. With such a strong and classic feel to the name the collection needed to have a little debonaire and thus, the concept of ‘methode champenoise’ was chosen as it provides both the exemplary quality in product but also the elegant appearance of the corked table cider.
CR: I’m tasting your first release; the “on-leaf dabinett”, which is a method I’ve seen before from Sandford Orchards. How did it come about as an idea for Purbeck Cider and what were the practicalities to create a cider in this way?
PC: After watching Barny, at Sandford Orchards have a go, Joe thought that our Dabinett trees at Kingston would be ideal to see if the leaf enhanced the flavour of the normal ferment. Dabinett lends itself well as the trees are located next to the cidery, so on harvesting of the apples the team can hand-pick the best leaves to add. Often the skin of the apple is used to provide the yeast for more natural fermentations and although this is adequate to use it will only have experienced a short period in the elements. The leaf, however, is exposed for a far longer time and thus has the potential to provide a more diverse and deeper flavor in fermentation.
CR: You’ve also gone full methode Champenoise with this first release what made you decide on that method and how has that affected the planning and timing for the collection?
PC: Joe felt that after taking the time to produce small batch ciders from our home apples that ‘methode Champenoise’ and aging would provide a finish that enhances the flavour and character of these ciders to offer our consumers something a little different. It has come with its challenges as it is very labour and time intensive and, as a result, batches are small and sporadic! But you can’t rush perfection. The Kings Hill Collection is currently only available through our own shop which means we are not under time pressures to deliver. When we have a product ready to a standard we are happy with, we offer to our customers.
CR: Can you tell us a bit more about the future releases? Will we see perries as well as ciders?
PC: Joe is nothing if not innovative so I have no doubt there is an abundance of future products to come. We are already working on the next Kings Hill product which happens to be a blended 2019 Perry. The combination of the dry wine like perry with the ‘methode champenoise’ is exquisite. We also have several small single variety ciders to launch as and when they come available – watch this space!
Huge thanks to Kate for answering all my questions with such detail, especially about the geology and landscape, we love a bit of terroir.
Kings Hill Collection – On-Leaf Dabinett (6% – 2019 vintage)
“An elegant single variety cider from Dabinett apples grown in the Isle of Purbeck. Fermented using the wild yeast from our Dabinett leaves to give a bountiful flavour, before using ‘méthode champenoise’ bottle conditioning for a gentle sparkle” (taken from the label).
Appearance: pale gold
On the nose: such a wonderfully complex and fruity nose, whispers of typical dabinett orange, light spice and vanilla but with floral pollen notes, candied green apples, tropical melon, lime skins and fresh oak barrels.
In the mouth: initially it’s all zingy bright green apple acidity and juiciness which took me completely by surprise, considering the variety and age. It rasps along the tongue and gives a perception of fruity sweetness. As it warms and evolves in the glass you start to get glimmers of wood, bitter orange, cinnamon and clove but its super light. Velvety smooth mouthfeel, a nice helping of creamy malolactic character and the dry finish has a refreshing sharpness to it.
In a nutshell: absolutely superb cider, refined, complex and thoroughly enjoyable, with an interesting flavour profile for the variety. “It’s Dabinett Jim, but not as we know it”
Where to start? A thoroughly fascinating interview with Kate, really interesting to hear how much work they are putting into the orchards and their understanding of the landscape they are working with. At a time when it seems most news about orchards is of them being grubbed up as they’re no longer profitable, it’s a relief to hear that for some the opposite is true. Innovation and diversification clearly supporting growth as well as resilience in such challenging times for all small businesses.
Now on to the cider and what an intriguing but above all excellent cider it is. I shouldn’t really make comparisons as there are too many variables but as an example, our 2019 Dabinett has developed a deep tannic character to it, whereas in this case I know this on-leaf is Dabinett and I can pick out its characteristics but it’s evolved into something incredibly light and fresh. Out of interest I looked back at a Barny Butterfields blog from back in 2018, where he was discussing their first ‘on-leaf’ experiment with Yarlington Mill (a very interesting read) where they used leaves from a 10-year-old Sweet Alford tree, so a completely different variety to the juice. His findings being that “the on-leaf fermentation produces a profoundly more impressive bouquet with increased complexity and subtlety. Blind tastings of the juice have produced a wide range of comments pronouncing the juice “fresher and fruitier, with extra zing”. Uncanny parallels with what I’ve tasted here from Purbeck Cider, which leaves me pondering how I could try the same experiment at some point and why many more makers aren’t already.