Peckham's Traditional English Cider

July 2016

An English couple have brought their passion for traditional cider to New Zealand

Caroline and Alex Peckham ran their own business in the UK for many years. When the couple came to NZ they started hankering for the traditional English cider they were used to when they were living in the UK.

They began planting cider apples in Canterbury back in 2003 and started amassing knowledge and experience of growing cider apple trees and making cider under New Zealand conditions.

They moved to their Upper Moutere orchard in 2006. The 16ha property was originally half in boysenberries. They continued with that crop while they spent time finding, planting and grafting a range of apple varieties suited to cider making.

In 2012 they built a new cider barn and imported apple juicing equipment from Slovenia. The cider processing expanded to accommodate fruit from over 30 varieties of trees they have on their home orchard along with fruit grown on contract for them.

When they started off the business, people told them they were crazy, but cider is undergoing a renaissance along with craft beers. In New Zealand the growth in ciders is being driven by big breweries offering fruit ciders aimed at the younger drinkers.

Cider afficionados point out that the Peckhams are on a quest to make cider which is a lot more traditional and complex than the current crop of mainstream ciders.

Alex and Caroline run a vertically integrated cider business on land in the Neudorf Valley in Upper Moutere near Nelson. The couple’s business aim is quite simple – to grow, harvest and process their own apples and make traditional English style cider.

The ciders are made from 100% fresh juice from fruit grown specifically for cider making.

They differentiate themselves from many other commercial ciders by using cider apple varieties and only tree ripened fruit. They don’t pick fruit that isn’t mature. Alex and Caroline say they don’t use any of the common apples like Fuji, Gala and Jazz and stay away from juice from this fruit. Cider made with this juice tends to be clean, crisp and fizzy but lacking character by the standards of traditional ciders.

The Peckhams use apples with a wonderful array of names like Kingston Black, Knotted Kernel, Sweet Alford and Tremlett’s Bitter.

The property covers roughly 16 ha. There are around 6000 trees spanning around 30 different varieties of apple sourced from old orchards and nurseries all over NZ. Some are old varieties that were brought to New Zealand by settlers specifically for cider. The couple have grafted those traditional varieties onto commercial rootstock.

Growing cider apples in New Zealand conditions has been a challenge. Some European varieties aren’t suited to the Nelson climate so balancing the need to use tree ripened fruit against the chance of fruit spoiling in the sun can be a challenge.

Alex says each type of apple has specific characteristics that offer the right blend of acidity and tannins. Their ciders are usually a blend of different varieties although a few varieties have the right characteristics to make a “single variety” cider.

In general terms the apples used for cider fall into groups according to specific characteristics : sweet, sharp, astringent ( tannin) and aroma. By blending juice from different apple types, the cider made with juice from these apples produces the complex depth of flavour and aroma that the Peckhams are after.

Fruit is hand harvested usually by ‘panking’ which is using a pole or a stick to knock the fruit to the ground from where it is gathered into bins. Alex notes that it is hard work for the pickers since they spend a lot of their time on their hands and knees on the ground under the trees gathering up the fruit. Fruit needs to be fully mature.

Harvested fruit is then brought to the cider barn where it is sorted to remove any damaged apples. It is washed, milled and then pressed into a rich cider juice.

Once the juice leaves the press Alex says the process is very similar to wine making.

In November 2015 the Peckhams won champion cider at the Fruit Wine and Cider Makers Association Awards held in Auckland. The award was for their Ice Cider – made by freezing a batch of juice and drawing off the concentrated liquid as it thaws. The couple also won 9 of the 17 silver medals given out at the awards.