Wrenbury is Cheshire's cider capital
PUBLISHED: 12:22 28 September 2011 | UPDATED: 19:41 20 February 2013
Paul and Gill Sweeney are producing Cheshire cider and helping preserve traditional English orchards WORDS BY EMMA MAYOH PHOTOGRAPHY BY JOHN COCKS
As 50th birthday celebrations go, it was fairly out of the ordinary. Some people may mark the milestone with a party for family and friends; others might go on a holiday of a lifetime. But not Paul Sweeney.
In 2007 he and his wife, Gill, decided to plant 50 traditional cider apple trees in a paddock at their Wrenbury home. The couple, who had already made cider as a hobby, were keen to find something they could continue after they retired.
Gill said: Wed always made cider as a bit of fun. We wanted something that would keep us busy and active so we decided to gear up our cider making. Paul came up with the idea of planting our own orchard.
Its a fantastic thing to do. We think its unusual to have an orchard like this in Cheshire too; cider isnt usually associated with this area at all. But weve been lucky and things have been going really well.
Paul and Gill produce cider on a very small scale - just over 2,000 bottles a year. They produce bottle conditioned sparkling ciders, traditional ciders and a sparkling vintage cider, produced using the same method as champagne. That has been served up with canaps at a handful of functions including at Nunsmere Hall in Oakmere. Its not available direct to the public but is stocked at some farm shops and delis as well as a handful of restaurants.
Their cider has won awards, pipping several producers in traditional cider making areas to the top spot. These include first place in the Single Variety cider category at the Hereford International Cider Competition.
Gill said: Its fantastic that were doing well and we are so pleased that people love our cider. Cider can sometimes have a reputation as tasting harsh and giving you a bad head, but its not like that.
Were producing light, crisp, clean ciders that taste good. Were encouraging people to try it is an alternative to wine or beer with a meal and the vintage cider is an excellent alternative for drinks receptions too.
Deciding to produce cider was a major change of tack for Paul and Gill who also run their own business selling tubular bandages.
But the couple are focussed on producing excellent cider and helping to retain traditional English orchards. As well as the trees they have in their own back garden other locals are also establishing their own orchards, grown from Paul and Gills trees. Once they mature the couple will also use these apples to produce Wrenbury Cider.
Gill, 54, said: Its nice to see orchards springing up again. We want to encourage more people to plant their own orchards. They are very pretty and its nice to produce your own fruit.
As a country we buy so much fruit from abroad. We dont see the point of that when we have such delicious apples here in England. We love the old English apple and want to promote it.
This isnt big business for us. It is something to keep us occupied and active when we do retire. We just want to enjoy ourselves and give people cider that hopefully they will enjoy too.
A guide to traditional cider apples
Kingston Black The juice from this small, dark red apple produces a bitter, sharp taste. Although not the easiest variety to grow it is widely considered an apple variety that gives the best flavoured juices.
Foxwhelp One of the oldest varieties of cider apple, dating back more than 300 years. It originates from the Gloucestershire/Herefordshire border and produces a dry, crisp cider
Sweet Coppin This pale yellow apple, dating back to the early 18th century, produces a sweet to bittersweet cider.
Dabinett This small yellow-green fruit is usually harvested around November. The quality of the bittersweet cider apple is used by a number of cider manufacturers.
Harry Masters These small trees crop every year and are a good choice if you would like to grow only one type of apple tree. Like the Dabinetts, the apples produce a bittersweet taste.
Browns Apple This traditional English cider variety produces a sharp juice and is widely planted in modern orchards. It is a great cider apple but also good for juicing.
Yarlington Mill This popular fruit is classed as a vintage cider apple. It can take slightly longer to bear fruit than other varieties but it produces heavy crops.