A GROUP of young Dorset craft cider makers gathered, socially distanced of course, for a unique cider tasting in the new Hinknowle Barn venue at Rupert Best’s estate at Melplash.
The Dorset Cider Apple event was a chance to taste and judge a set of single variety ciders, the culmination of a fascinating project led by veteran cider maker Nick Poole and scientist and pomologist Liz Copas.
Some years ago Nick, who has been making cider for many years at West Milton cider company, talked about his interest to find out what real Dorset cider used to taste like and perhaps rediscover some of the old apple varieties that were once popular in the county.
Nick and Liz, who used to be based at the sadly closed agricultural research station at Long Ashton, Bristol, told the gathering how they had scoured the county and resurrected 22 old cider apple trees from farms and gardens.
The apples were tested and a little of their cider was tasted before new young trees of each variety were securely planted in Linden Lea orchard at Melplash.
Local people may remember names like Kings Favourite and Golden Ball, both well known in West Dorset, but some apples could not be identified and had to be given new names like Marlpitts, after the name of the farm where it was discovered.
The young trees have all had their DNA sequenced as part of a registration scheme for local apple and pear varieties and have proved to be unique when compared with all known apple varieties.
Further DNA work has revealed that some of the Dorset finds have ancient lineage that links them to the earliest cider apples grown in this country, perhaps even related to those that the French monks brought over at the time of the Norman Conquest.
This is exciting news for Dorset’s cider makers who can now boast that their cider not only tastes good and authentic but has a history.
Last autumn the trees all had their first big crop and produced enough apples each to make a single variety cider. The Melplash tasting was the first opportunity for discerning cider makers to judge their worth and all agreed that as single varieties they certainly held their own and if they were to be blended, could stand with the best of traditional cider apples from other parts of the West country.
Nick and Liz believe that all their work of the last 13 years will benefit Dorset’s cider industry and that it is now on the threshold of its full potential. To achieve the greatest advantage, Dorset needs to see a major planting of these old varieties in new orchards and to see them being taken on by the next generation of cider makers who will be able to claim their ciders are produced from genuine and unique Dorset cider apples.