The Cidermaking Year
Diary of a Dorset Cidermaker
For the past 6 years, the Cidermaking Year has been a regular feature on UKCider each month – it is where I have recorded my ramblings, thoughts and questions about cidermaking and growing a small cider business in Dorset. To me, it has come to be a work of love as much of practical use – people have followed it and sought me out because of the diary.
Now, the diary and its archived material have been moved to this new blog on my own website. The Cider by Rosie website is the obvious place to continue the ‘tradition’ of the Cidermaking Year - although I continue to post this as an ongoing record to the Cider Workshop as and when I have finished a ‘new installment’.
The latest month can be found below, and click on the month to view the rest of this years diary. The archive has been updated and redesigned into a format you can download. Click here to view the archive.
The Cidermaking Year
Last October on my second apple collection run, I was pulling a 2 ton load with my Landrover, as I had done many times before without a problem. Half way home I took a corner wider than usual. The nearside front wheel of the trailer hit the grass verge. Unfortunately the grass was obscuring a kerb that had long since become overgrown. The hefty jolt was enough to keel the trailer over on to its side, whereupon 2/3 of the load shot into a hawthorn hedge bordering the adjacent field. I was at a loss to know what to do, as I stood there directing the traffic and watching the vehicles that had been following me, squidging through the carpet of apples. Quite a lot of apples had landed on the road as well as the verge.
Nobody wanted to help. A white van man made abusive remarks about 4x4 drivers, of which breed I was the latest to trigger his personal hate campaign. A business man in a Jaguar put his window down to say how sorry he was for me and then sped off. It was like a modern version of the well known parable because just as my shock was beginning to give way to despair, along came the Good Samaritan. He was a kindly driver of a timber lorry who immediately sized up the situation, then got a long strop out of his cab. He connected this between my trailer and his lorry and carefully pulled the trailer upright again. He thought nothing of it and was off and away before I even had time to ask his name.
Two police cars were next on the scene and to my amazement the officers produced brooms and plastic shovels and got to work clearing the apples from the highway. I thought I would be in trouble but they did not remonstrate with me in the slightest, taking the view that it was a run of the mill accident where fortunately no one had been hurt.
I wont hear a word against the Dorset police now. They were most considerate to me.
The trailer cage had been bent by the sideways force of the load. Worse still the front axle had bent causing the nearside wheel to tow outwards about 10 degrees. I could not tow it home. A gipsy couple whose caravan was in a nearby lane offered to take care of the trailer until I could return. This solved another problem since I could not just leave it at the side of the busy main road. When I returned for the trailer I took some bags in the hope of rescuing some of the apples in the hedge. Moses' wife Annie insisted on helping me.
Together we grovelled in the hedge with the traffic hurtling by just a few feet away, but we saved half a ton of cider apples The whole incident taught me volumes about the human race. People can be so kind, often when one least expects it.
It also taught me a lesson about unkind insurance companies. It looked as though the repairs to the trailer would cost around £1,000. I learned that the whole front axle had to be replaced, this item alone being £550. Thank heavens I had taken out some cover on my equipment, I thought. Surely the trailer is just as much a piece of my cidermaking equipment as the mill or the press. "Not so!"., said the man at the NFU, pointing out a clause in the small print of the policy. Trailers and goods carried in them are excluded. The cover only applies to equipment on your premises. I turned to my car insurance and found a similar clause concerning trailers in their policy. The loss was thus all mine and I felt very peeved and with the NFU in particular. Actually of course it was my own fault for not scrutinising the policy. Be warned!
There was a happy ending. I found a lovely man in a small agricultural engineering shop near Dorchester. He who took the trouble to take the axle off and straighten it in their 100 ton press. He also straightened the apple cage and fitted new fastenings for it. All for £200. Phew! I was very grateful and plied him and his partner with bottles of keeved. Moses and Annie were happy to receive some of my best eating apples. I was surprised to hear that they did not drink alcohol.
I never get through the pressing season without some sort of catastrophe. Last year the press blew a seal in the hydraulic pump. The year before the mill seized. I dread to think what will happen this season.
Cider by Rosie 2010... Catch up!
Whatever became of Cider by Rosie? some may have asked. My website blog dried up last April and have since made very few contributions to the Cider Workshop even though I follow the daily compendium of its postings. The truth of the matter is that the progression from hobby cidermaker to commercial producer means that one gets busier each year, until in my case there has been little time to do much else. Let me explain how this has arisen.
As with any business an annual appraisal is essential to see if it is worth continuing in the same way, or whether different production practices or sales ventures need to be pursued. In the years of my buildup to 7000 litres I made a yearly loss due to the outlay on equipment. This was not unexpected, nor was it of much concern since I was engaged with a hobby that I loved. I also knew that within a few years the equipment would be paid for from the profit. As the years went by the cider sold well, the equipment was paid for and I settled into the steady routine of making 7000 L which was mostly sold wholesale to the local pubs. At each annual review when doing my tax assessment I noticed that though I was not losing money, I was not making much either, especially when the many hours of work throughout the year were considered. The profit each year was always heavily offset by the overheads, (eg running my 4 x 4 for apple collection and delivery of product to the pubs, electricity, equipment repairs, spares and minor improvements etc). What I have is actually a self financing hobby!
I make cider primarily because I enjoy doing it, but financially I have come to the conclusion that wholesale selling does not provide a satisfying return at the 7000 L level. Above this level the onset of duty could wipe out the profit completely, especially with having to pay on the first 7000 L as well. I know we are lucky to have the exemption, but in my considered opinion it is too low for a small craft business to be financially worth all the effort involved. The level needs to be at least 12,000 L to dilute the effect of overheads and allow reasonable remuneration. I know of course ( having done the sums ) that above 25,000 L and assuming I was able to sell it all, the proportion of the factors involved would improve, even when allowing for the duty incurred. However this is not what I want to do. I am a one person 'cottage industry' and I want to keep it that way. After all, I am 'retired'.
I suspect that what I have found over the last 6 years is familiar territory to many craft cidermakers, certainly those who are selling wholesale. Indeed one can marvel and contemplate the various ways to make 7000 L viable. These are to sell it all retail, or turn it all into higher value product as bottles of keeved or champagne method sparkling cider. All of these come at the price of much greater time and effort. I looked at my own situation when I started selling in April last year. The pubs were showing the strain of staying in business, one that had been good for me previously, had closed. Some were lost forever having been bought by the big concerns. Some had changed hands, often with a new landlord feeling his way, not wishing to pay a premium for craft cider when more profit could be made from the factory alternative. This volatility is a known feature of the pub trade but I got the impression that this year it was getting worse. I had to put in a lot of effort on the sales side and travel further afield than usual to find new outlets, this in turn added extra delivery miles at a time of rising fuel prices. I needed another string to my bow.
Two good friends run a successful micro brewery not far from here. Like me, they depend heavily on the free house pub trade and share the same misgivings. A year or so back they decided to diversify into bottled beer using crown capped 50 cl. This proved to be a great success because it expanded their range of outlets into high street shops, and farm shops as well as to some of the pubs that had been taking their draught. Where possible they had stalls at local events and agricultural shows, bringing with it the advantage of retail selling. I had dabbled with the green 75 cl screw top bottles in the past. They had not been good movers and I had already come to the conclusion that perhaps 50 cl is a better size for cider, so seeing what was happening with the beer I decided to give it a go.
I don't really enjoy the tedium of bottling but soon found that the 50 cl s are very popular with wine shops, off licences and even restaurants. I was hard pressed to keep up with the demand and my 4 port Vigo bottler really come into its own at last. However the downside was that it takes 8 - 10 times the amount of time to put the same quantity of cider into bottles as it does to package it in bag in box. On the credit side I found it possible to improve the value of the cider to me by 30 %. Doing the sums, this paid me for the extra work involved. Like my brewing friends I also took on a few stalls to obtain the advantage of retail selling, though I did not steel myself to cost the time spent travelling, setting up and running the stall.
To my surprise I rather enjoyed the sociable nature of selling to the public and it was good to be able to retail draught as well as the bottles. I intend to do more of this next year. Short of running your own pub or farm shop it is the only way of getting the full value per litre of that precious 7000! ( I can see Roy nodding with approval )
Now you know why I have been too busy to write a blog. The bottling and extra deliveries ruled my life throughout the summer and I was too tired to do much else. However the cider was all sold by the time that pressing began in October. I will do it again but will look towards contract bottling next year, to supplement my usual on site packaging in 20 litre B in B s. Although it is a hobby, there remains the challenge to make it a successful business.
Though it was a hard working year, I enjoyed it immensely. There were many highlights and events that I would have liked writing about. A brief resume´would look like this:
April: Powerstock Cider Festival. Excellent new format with the cidermakers lunch and get together in the afternoon before the public event in the evening. My cider got first prize in one of the classes of the newly instigated 'Putley style' competition.
May: Our May Queen orchard event. Had the great pleasure of meeting Trevor and Frances Fitzjohn from New Zealand. They were able to join us for the event whilst on holiday in England.
June: Bath & West Show. Great to see Andrew get that very special gold medal, so well deserved! Likewise to see my good friend Albert Rixen receive the Cooper's Trophy. Amazed and delighted beyond words that Cider by Rosie won Farmhouse Cider Champion again!
October/November: Best harvest ever! 1,500 litres from my own little orchard. Other orchards I use were also weighed down with apples. Thankfully Albert eased the workload by bringing his pickerupper machine. Made 6,500 litres of draught.
December: Spent the whole month messing about with keeving. It was all so slow due to the cold that a removable 'chapeau' was easily obtained on every batch. Made 500 litres total of several different varieties.
Last Saturday: Our 8th and best Wassail yet! Albert, Barry and his friend Dave added the 'Gloucester' touch with the astounding ring of 12 bonfires around the tree. Everybody loved it! Seem to have set a precedent there.
Now for a little rest.
Archive for this recent Cidermaking Year posts
Please note that, due to recent copyright infringements of the Cidermaking Year, I feel I must add here that, whilst you may read and download any of the archive for the Cidermaking Year, please do not repost it, or copy it to another website without my express permission to do so. However, this notice will not affect the majority of folk reading the Cidermaking year, so please do enjoy it.