About the 2021 Vintage
March 2021 was considerably warmer than the long-term average and warm, dry weather continued into April bringing forward blossom time for perry pears and early cider apples. Late April was unseasonably cold extending into May with late frosts and temperatures dipping below zero, followed by heavy rain making this the fourth wettest May since 1862. These were unfavourable conditions for blossom and pollinating insects, and it was evident by mid-summer that our yields would be much reduced at harvest time.
September saw settled and unusually warm weather, the second warmest since 1884, particularly on 7/8 September when a maximum temperature of >30 degrees Celsius was recorded in Gloucestershire. October and November were generally mild and settled with benign conditions for harvest. Temperatures dropped below 12 degrees at the end of November just in time for us to start keeving our ‘Normandy method’ sparkling cider.
We started pressing Thorn perry pears on 21 September and scrambled to harvest enough fruit to fill a 300-litre vat from four different orchards. Some fruit was harvested early from young trees to give us the required acidity and blended back with very ripe fruit from older trees at home.
Aylton Red, Blakeney Red and Gregg's Pit (our eponymous perry pear variety) were all light croppers yielding just 600 litres, and we had to substitute Blakeney Red for Barnet (of which there was none!) to make 800 litres of our mid-season blend of Blakeney Red, Brandy and Winnals Longdon. Late harvest Butt and Oldfield perry pears were low in yield but of very good quality and so we waited until the last possible moment to harvest them, blending back some very ripe Blakeney Red to make 500 litres which will make a fine bottle conditioned sparkling perry.
2021 was a ‘hit’ year for Kingston Black cider apples and we pressed 600 litres in a blend with Browns Apple. Our favourite late harvest cider apples also cropped well yielding 700 litres of Dabinett & Yarlington Mill and 370 litres of Brown Snout, Chisel Jersey and White Close Pippin all of which was keeved to make our ‘Normandy method’ sparkling cider.
Draught cider & perry
We changed our business model as a result of the Covid-19 and successive lockdowns during 2020/21. Before the pandemic we sold most of our draught products through our wholesalers to CAMRA beer and cider festivals across England, direct to pubs and retail customers and at local food and drink festivals. Now we are bottling >70% of our output, but we continue to supply draught cider and perry at wholesale prices, as follows:
10 or 20 litre ‘bag-in-box’ draught cider @ £3.00/litre (inclusive of packaging)
10 or 20 litre ‘bag-in-box’ draught perry @ £3.50/litre (inclusive of packaging)
The advantage of the ‘bag-in-box’ is that it’s a double skin food grade plastic bag inside a robust biodegradable cardboard box with no risk of spoilage.
Normandy method ‘keeved’ and bottled conditioned sparkling cider & perry
The Normandy method of producing a keeved naturally sparkling cider was a new venture for us in 2005 and these products are now much in demand. We mill the fruit and then set it aside to ‘macerate’ for up to 24 hours before pressing. We add a special enzyme to the tank before filling with raw juice and then a small quantity of calcium chloride is added about 36 hours later. We then pump it top and bottom to create a continuous closed circulation for 40 minutes. The result is a brown pectin-calcium gel (known as ‘Le chapeau brun’ or ‘brown hat’), which forms on the surface of the freshly pressed juice and absorbs the nitrogen and vitamins that would otherwise provide nutrient for the wild yeast.
After 10-15 days, when ‘Le chapeau brun’ is well formed (it can be up to 10 cm thick and is ready when brown and ‘crusty’), a clear, nutrient poor and slow fermenting juice can be racked off from underneath it. This will be suitable for final racking, filtration and bottling at a specific gravity of 1012-1015 after 6-9 months to produce a bottle conditioned medium to medium-dry cider/perry with a slight yeast deposit.
We have already bottled and laid down in stillage 380 x 75cl bottles of our Dabinett & Yarlington Mill and 430 x 75cl bottles of our Brown Snout, Chisel Jersey & White Close Pippin 2021 Normandy method naturally sparkling cider, as well as 500 x 75cl bottles of Blakeney Red, Brandy & Winnals Longdon 2021 bottle conditioned sparking perry.
We will bottle another 300 litres of our Dabinett & Yarlington Mill 2021 ‘Normandy method’ naturally sparkling cider, and 300-500 litres of Blakeney, Butt & Oldfield 2021 bottle conditioned sparkling perry when natural fruit sugar levels drop to SG1012 later in the summer/early autumn. They will be available in a full weight champagne style bottle with mushroom cork and wire closure in 75cl and 150cl ‘magnum’ bottle formats.
Draught cider & perry
We made our first ‘Champagne Method’ bottle fermented perry in 2001.
In October 2020 we laid down 395 x 75cl bottles of our favourite Thorn – single variety 2019 perry for a second in-bottle fermentation. This product had a first fermentation in barrel during autumn/winter 2020/21 and a second in bottle fermentation during 2021/22 prior to remuage and disgorging at Three Choirs Vineyards Ltd in May 2022. The 75cl bottle format is the same as for the bottle conditioned sparkling perry.
For only the second time in 26 years of producing craft cider and perry, there will be a three-year consecutive ‘vertical’ tasting run of our Thorn – single variety ‘Champagne method’ bottle fermented perry. In addition to the 395 x 75cl bottles of the 2019 vintage, there are 600 x 75cl bottles of the 2020 vintage on lees in stillage and we plan to bottle a 300 litre vat of the 2021 vintage later this year.
In April 2017 we took a 300 vat of our 2015 draught perry to Charles Martell & Son Ltd at Dymock for distilling into Pear Spirit, which sold out very fast! We doubled the volume with 600 litres of our 2017 and 2018 vintages, having learned that draught perry produces a better quality, smoother and more characteristically fruity spirit when distilled young soon after it has finished fermentation in late summer.
Our 2021 vintage Pear Spirit will be released in 50cl bottles with cork and foil closure @ £38.50/50cl (retail only).