Its taken me too long to get these photos up online, mainly because I have too many to put up in one gallery and I hate having to choose which images not to include! Apologies to anyone who has been waiting for them.
In September 2016 I was asked to help judge the Australian Cider Awards followed by 2 weeks of cider hunting (and nearly 4500+ miles) on the road.
The good folks at Cider Australia obviously work very hard to make Australian cider world class and in a multi million dollar industry, balancing tradition with modern ideals is a difficult thing to do. The organisation was established after a group of producers met in Orange, NSW in September 2011 and Healesville, VIC in January 2012 and agreed to form a united national association. Its impressive to see what they have achieved since then. Every organisation that punches above its weight depends on someone like the gentle but tenacious soul of Executive Officer Jane Anderson to sort through the chaos and mayhem you find of a cidermakers association. They are lucky to have her.
I was constantly impressed with the variety of cider on offer and was pleased to discover some producers committed to planting orchards of true cider fruit- rather than using with culinary discards or concentrate only. Aside from giving them an edge many of their competitors won't have, I think thats a wise investment that will pay dividends for years to come.
I loved the fact that it felt like I met everyone involved with cider in Australia ever - aside from cidermakers and apple/pear growers, I met passionate home cidermakers, drinkers, buyers, journalists, sensory analysis technicians, million dollar businessmen and newcomer who were only just discovering cider! Australia has a surprisingly interesting history with cider - something I never really realised, but much like USA (a 'modern' country predominantly made up of European emigrants) its obvious when you think about it. Apples have always travelled with humans so when you factor in our thirst for fermented beverages and the apples ability to adapt and survive under local conditions - its really obvious. I was pleased to be able to catch up with writer and cider advocate Max Allen whom I met some years ago whilst he was visiting UK on a cider trip. I believe he is secretly working on a book about the history of cider in Australia which will absolutely be worth reading.
I love the way the Australian Cider Awards are judged - its probably the most satisfying judging experience I've ever had. Aside from its common sense approach, it was afforded the proper organisation, manpower and time it takes to get that kind of thing right. Overseen by head judge Gary Baldwin, it was a very fair, enjoyable and professional process. As you would expect, fellow judges were passionate, open minded and honest, but his guidance meant our strong opinions, differing experiences made for lively, humorous yet serious results. The panel had bags of experience and technical knowledge passed over from the wine industry, which I felt was both an advantage and a hindrance. Much of the criteria you judge a new world wine by are not the same as those you would use to analyse an old world cider (what may be considered a fault in wine, may be considered a key-component here for cider in Europe) and so it made for some interesting discussion. I was astounded by the level of knowledge everyone else had - far superior to mine - I know what I like and don''t like and I could tell you why, but unlike them, I couldn't pinpoint the specific compounds responsible (EP4??!) At the end of day one of judging, two of the judges were even making notes such as 'Bill will like this one' because they had figured out what it was I look for in ciders and could identify the compounds that appeal to my palate - which I found fascinating!
I was glad to find the obligatory cantankerous gentleman-cidermaker (no cider industry can on the planet can consider itself real unless you have at least one!) in the form of Drew Henry, one of Austrailas core, old guard and although stickler for tradition - open to new ideas. Drew and his lovely wife Irene run Henry of Harcourt and are well worth a visit if you are ever out that way. In my opinion, they make some of the best cider in Australia 'cider for grown ups' as they call it. The rest of Australias old guard are made up of Clive Crossly from Red Sails, David Pickering - an pomologist from Orange, Warren Billings from Lobo Cider and 'Borry' from Borrodell Vineyard. I had a fleeting visit and tasting with James Kendall from Small Acres too, one of the founding members of Cider Australia.
Just as staunch are some of the newer cidermakers that worth visiting: Lisa at Seven Oaks, Eric and Troy from St Ronans in Healesville, Napoleone in the Yarra Valley, Nyall Condon from Flying Brick on the Ballerine Peninsula, Sam Reid (C.A President and partner) at multi award winning Willie Smiths and Damien at Spreyton Cider Co in Tasmania. Tasmania itself has numerous cider producers and has a long history of growing apples, more of which you can find out about http://www.tascidertrail.com. Its well worth the visit.
There are other cidermakers I managed to miss on this trip, but there is always next time.
And yes, there is a Kangaroo in one of the orchard shots! #CiderHunters