Meet The Orchardist, Chave Richman co-founder of Welsh Mountain Cider.
When Malus Magazine asked me to write a feature about Britain’s Cider Women I sent the same questions to several of the UK’s leading orchardists, cider makers, advocates, and retailers. With limited space in the magazine I was unable to include all their responses but did not want to waste their fascinating comments, so I have posted them individually on this blog. I cast the interviewees in an imaginary film called ‘Sisterhood of Cider, The Movie’ and I asked them not to be modest in their answers because I was ‘bigging’ them up for feature. Please meet The Orchardist.
What is your role in cider?
I am a cidermaker, and to me that means everything from making the cider to running the cider business. I also run a tree nursery and help other people create their orchards as well as curating our own museum orchard with over 500 varieties of apple and pear.
What does your work entail?
Welsh Mountain Cider is a partnership between myself Chava Richman and my husband Bill Bleasdale. Most jobs we both do – we both take an active role in nearly every part of the business – I harvest, press, blend, bottle. I also do label design, labelling, packaging, selling, web design, admin, accounting, sales, social media. I also run the tree nursery, so planting and looking after the nursery, and helping others to choose varieties and plant their own orchards.
What is your favourite aspect of your work?
I love harvest and pressing, being surrounded by apples every day. Being in lovely orchards, working really hard and falling into bed dreaming of apples. Tasting and blending is magic as well. I love opening a barrel for the first time and discovering a new cider.
Describe cider to a person who is unaware of it.
Cider is a drink made from fermented apples. It can be anything from a highly processed industrial drink, to a hand made, naturally fermented drink akin to wine made from 100% juice.
What does cider mean to you?
Cider is part of life. It’s what you drink with food, it’s what you drink after a long day, it’s something to share and savour. Cider is our native wine and is a reflection of our land and heritage.
Why should a person drink cider?
People should drink good cider because it’s good! It is (or can be) a more natural, healthy drink than can be produced in a way that is sympathetic with the land. It is easy to make natural cider with organic fruit – apples grow really well in this country, and don’t need constant applications of fungicide. It can be made and drunk locally. It supports the land and the people who produce it. It is a delicious way of supporting orchards and biodiversity.
If you were to be nominated for an award for your ceaseless work for cider why should you win it?
There are two things that I do that are significant and deserve recognition. One is that I am a champion and advocate for natural cider. I am passionate about making cider from 100% juice, naturally fermented with nothing else added. The other thing that is special about me is that I have been studying apples and varieties for the last 14 years, I am trialling about 500 varieties at altitude in the Cambrian Mountains, and I have used this knowledge to help advise hundreds of people to plant their own orchards. Our tree nursery has sent out about 20 acres of traditional standard orchard every year for the last 14 years creating a huge amount of habitat that is crucial to the health of our countryside.
Why did you choose cider and not wine or beer?
I am from Sonoma County in California. I remember my childhood being surrounded by old apple trees, the smell of hot fruit on the ground, apples everywhere. By the time I was in University and studying agroecology I was realizing that most of the old orchards around my home had been grubbed up to plant more profitable vineyards. I was horrified by this and thought that there must be more uses for apples than I was aware of.
I came to the UK with the idea of learning about cider and returning home to start a cidery in California. My plans changed when I fell in love with a cidermaker and ended up staying in the UK. I am very grateful that there are people like Scott and Ellen from Tilted shed to carry on the mission of preserving apples in Sonoma County.
If you have a favourite apple what is it and why?
How can you have only one favourite apple?! My first apple love was the Bramley. I didn’t grow up with cooking apples, so when I first had a Bramley I was blown away. Since then I have found other cooking apples that I love, such as Keswick Codlin and Warner’s King, but I do have a soft (fluffy puréed) spot for Bramley.
My two favourite dessert apples are Ashmead’s Kernel and Pitmaston Pineapple. Ashmead’s Kernel’s are great because we eat them from Christmas through April and it’s lovely to have fresh fruit in the winter.
I have too many favourite cider apples to choose one. I love the really tannic ones like Hereford Redstreak or Yarlington Mill. I think that Kingston Black has to be one of my favourites because it does absolutely rock as a single variety. It’s magic, it feels like cheating as a cidermaker because it just makes itself, no need for blending anything.
Do you think the UK’s cider sector is in a better position than it was before you started working in it, and if so how?
Yes! The cider sector in the UK is a dynamic and exciting place. When I started it was definitely more traditional, but not very innovative. There was either ‘craft cider’, all made much the same way, and not always great, or commercial cider (not really cider at all in my mind). We slowed down a bit when we were having our two girls (now 6 and 8 years old), and when we re-emerged on the scene there were so many exciting things happening. All of the things that we love, natural cider, vintage cider (aged for several years at least), cider made with care and respect for the fruit had suddenly become a thing! What a great time to be a cidermaker.
What would you change about the UK’s current cider sector?
If there were some way of distinguishing between commercial and fresh juice ciders, that would be good, but I can’t think of a way because they are both ‘cider’. Perhaps some sort of mark of quality with minimum standards of juice content.
What is the biggest challenge we face as cider advocates?
Overcoming the stereotype of real cider being ‘rough’. I’m sure that anyone who has sold cider at a market would tell countless stories of people not wanting to try cider again after a bad experience as a teenager. It’s strange to me, because I’m sure that people would have as many stories about awful hangovers from other drinks, but somehow it seems like a source of pride to not like cider because of youthful escapades.
What slogan should be on cider t-shirts?
Plant orchards. Drink cider.