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By Zoe Purcell • Published on 9th June, 2023

Three Somerset ciders are “The People’s Choices”

The ‘People’s Choice’ is one of the most popular feature of the Orchards and Cider Exhibition at the Royal Bath and West Show. On each of the three days, visitors to the exhibition are given the chance to judge for themselves a selection of prize-winning ciders and choose their favourite – dry ciders on the Thursday, mediums on the Friday and sweets on the Saturday.

This year, some 1700 people made their choices, with three Somerset ciders coming out on top. Among the drys, it was Ad Astra Cider’s ‘Nimrod’ which proved the most popular. Ad Astra is a relatively new name in Somerset cider. Referencing the RAF’s motto of “Per Ardua ad Astra” it was set up at Orchardleigh Farm, Stone Allerton by RAF veteran Paul Rolfe and is already making a considerable mark on the cider-making scene. The cider that proved so popular with the public was also a hit with the judges, who made it the Reserve Champion Farmhouse Dry in the British Cider Championships, hosted by the Bath and West.

A more familiar name came out on top among the Medium ciders which were sampled by the public on Friday: Alan Berry’s Blackmore Vale Cider from near Templecombe in South Somerset. Alan is a regular prize-winner in the British Cider Championships, winning the Supreme Championship back in 2016, also with a Medium cider.

The People’s Choice sweet cider, sampled by over 700 show-goers on the Saturday was another local cider -Southdown Cider’s ‘Festival’, made by Rob Whale at Shepton Montague near Bruton. Rob’s cider business is relatively small scale, but that hasn’t prevented him winning some big prizes, including Supreme Champion in the 2019 British Cider Championships – once again demonstrating that when it comes to judging a really good cider, the general public and the BCC’s expert judges are very much on the same page.

Cornish apple saviours win lifetime achievement award

Husband and wife team Mary Martin and James Evans were presented with the Bath and West Society’s Special Award for Services to the Cider Industry for their work in chronicling and preserving Cornwall’s apple-growing heritage.

Based not far from Cotehele in the Tamar Valley, they have spent a lifetime identifying the many different varieties of apple indigenous to Cornwall in general and the Tamar Valley in particular, recording their findings both on the page and in the ground. In 2014, they published “A Cornish Pomona” which lists, describes and pictures all the many Cornish apples they have discovered, many of which have been planted in their own ‘mother orchard’.

Paying tribute to Mary and James, the well-known cider author and poet, James Crowden, said. “The nitty-gritty is that, having been told that they were wasting their time looking for Cornish apple varieties, they have tracked down many rare Cornish apples, pears and cherries. They have set up mother orchards of their own, which have over 200 varieties of apple and helped enormously with the planting of the National Trust’s new mother orchard at Cotehele.

“They also helped Andy Atkinson with the planting of the first large scale commercial orchard with Cornish varieties at Duloe, and now many more Cornish cider farms owe their success to James and Mary’s expertise in knowing the right cider varieties to plant for that particular area.
“In short, they have saved Cornwall’s apples from extinction”.

Apple harvesting pioneer wins Coopers Award for craftsmanship

George Tuthill, a Somerset engineer who has been inventing, designing and manufacturing apple harvesting equipment since the 1970s, has won the 2023 Coopers Award for Craftsmanship in the Cider Industry.

He was presented with his trophy by the Master of the Worshipful Company of Coopers, Ms Clare Hughes OBE, in the Orchards and Cider marquee at the Royal Bath and West Show.

Of all the many apple harvesting machines designed and built by Mr Tuthill over the years, two stand out as game-changers. The first was the tree shaker, which grips an apple tree’s trunk at harvest time and gives it a good shake so that all of the fruit falls to the ground………

…where it can be collected by a Tuthill Temperley apple harvester, operated manually in a small orchard or tractor-mounted in a large one. Previously, the apples had to be dislodged from the trees using long poles, and collecting them from the orchard floor was a back-breaking task, done by hand.

“It is no exaggeration to say that without George Tuthill’s machines, many more of the West Country’s magnificent standard cider orchards would have been lost, simply because of the sheer difficulty of harvesting the apples”, said Anthony Gibson, Chairman of Orchards and Cider.

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