Friday 16 December 2011

Happy Birthday Bob, godfather of modern cidermaking

Today is 16th December. This day in 1846 a clever chap called Robert Neville-Grenville was born (what a treat to have a newborn so close Christmas!) He died 89 years later on 13 September 1936. 'Great..' I hear you say 'but who the chuff was he?' Allow me a brief introduction...

He was a squire, patron and a pioneer - someone all modern day cidermakers owe a little something to. He was born into a fortunate family so he studied at Eton and Cambridge, he went on to become a wealthy and prominent squire of Butleigh Court in Somerset in the 1880's. As squire, you were responsible for many things aside from the obvious, one of the most important being the livelihoods of the many families in your employ. As such, you had to manage your affairs successfully and the rural farming economy of the time here in Somerset very much depended on the cider and cidermaking - boiled down to the fact that quality cider was the lynchpin of a succesful farm. Quality cider meant decent labourers which meant..... you can figure out the rest. RN-G knew it was important to progress cidermaking from the farmyard into the science behind how and why it works so he started that process. He was instrumental in the cider industry and together with chemist Frederick J Lloyd spent 10 years experimenting and researching champagne ciders. Robert Neville Grenville set up experimentation into cider making at Butleigh Court during the 1890s, and supported the opening of the National Fruit and Cider Institute, Long Ashton, in 1903 to undertake systematic research into cider who then took on the mantle of modern cider research.

He even won a Gold medal from the French for his efforts in research and that doesn't happen every day

I LOVE the fact we had a National Fruit and Cider Institute, with a lab, for research, to make our cider BETTER!

I've heard he was a bit of a pioneering motorist too, due no doubt to that all the cider he had running through his veins. Maybe he was the inspiration for this little gem:

Thats how I like mine served.
After some Holmesian sleuthery, I managed to track down his grave so I could go and pay my respects.

Its quite tricky knowing what to do photographically speaking. I decided to keep it really straight and go for a documentary approach. Is there any reason to do it any other way?

Rest in Peace sir - you did good.

Monday 5 December 2011

I WIN! (aka Cider Photography 101- don't expect to earn a living)

Good news, on Friday I was lucky enough to be informed I've been awarded first prize (€500 plus €100 of books) in the Spanish cider magazine 'La Sidra' photo competition (my life is now complete.)

For those of you that speak Spanish, here is the press release.

Being both cidery and photographic, I felt I had a few contenders 'in the bag' and as I was planning to travel to Asturias in 2012 to continue my exploration of global cider culture, I thought I should give it a go. Even if (as usual) I didn't place at all, it could be beneficial marketing. Having not seen what or who I was up against it was hard to get too excited about it, Cider photography a tiny and bespoke market so specialising in it is ridiculous really. I've entered some competitions in the past but always get lost in the melee never to be heard from again, so I didn't pay too much attention to the T&C's.

I thought, on the off chance I win anything at all, I should celebrate wisely by investing my winnings in a trip to Asturias, the home of the competition. I've spent so much time over the last seven years (and more money than I should) 'doing' cider, I could at least partly justify a cider specific trip the best way I can, by contributing competition winnings back into it. I rarely get paid for doing any cider work, more than 99% of my income comes from my freelance work (and even that doesn't earn me much if I'm honest.)

Primer Sidra del Añu, (First Cider of the Year) is an Asturian festival that celebrates the new years cider being ready, something I'm quite good at. A few cider buddies and I are talking about getting together there for a few days hardcore cider throwing. I especially enjoy the idea of celebrating it because its ready (I'm a firm believer in celebrating good news, its important) so here's my chance... early April, crisp Spring mornings, sunny warm evenings, passionate cider drinking festival... a win means I can go, its the green light I've been waiting for, funds available etc! However the organisers of the photo competition (who also know I am planning to attend Aprils festival) have kindly pointed out "it's NECESARY to come personally to receive the prize... so I'm afraid you're going to use a good part of your 500 € travelling" to Asturias in late January to collect the winnings. Having tentatively checked online, I can confirm that its more than likely to cost me the same (possibly more) than the winnings to go and collect the winnings. In this instance winning the competition means I can at best hope to break even, again leaving me poorer overall if I travel back 6 weeks later. Not even entering (and despite winning) it'll still cost me that trip to Asturias to document the festival. What a pickle to get oneself into with some good news. I have asked if we can delay and I can collect in April but... we shall see.

Here are the winning photographs.

1st place:
Falling Apples II
2nd place:

3rd place:
Silhoueta I

JR Cider 'special prize':
Mayando Fuerte

I have to say, I really like the second place entry, if I was judging that would have been difficult not to give it first place, it really appeals to me and I'd love to see more of his/her work. The technical aspects of it are really tight (the exposure, the contrast, the colours, the moment etc) but the social aspect of cidermaking as content really elevates it to something special. For me thats where the real power and interest of cider lies. It takes the subject away from the usual apples, orchards, glasses of juice etc and propels the theme to humanity and social history. It adds value, something many subjects could benefit from.

Anyway, the irony continues with my second, more immediate, much sillier (and cheaper) way for me to celebrate: by sharing with you another winning 'Photograph.' 

Go on, let all 4.12 minutes of it play, you know you want to. Its the most appropriate, feel good sound I can have in this situation, and its probably the only time I can ever vaguely justify posting this particular guilty pleasure on a cider photography blog. I've got so much more material in the pipeline, that its much more worthwhile and relevant. So apologies for my moment of self indulgent fun.

For any Lepp-geek-wannabes out there, 'Photograph' is from their 1983 album 'Pyromania'. When it was released as a single, it reached No. 1 on the Billboard Top Tracks chart and No. 12 on the Pop Singles chart. The album went on to sell over 10 million copies in the US alone, ranked number 384 on Rolling Stone's 500 Greatest Albums of All Time and placed the album ranked 35 in its list of Q magazines "40 Best Albums of the '80s.

X Factor wannabes, eat my 1980s pop-metal.

Thursday 1 December 2011

Blog improvements

Blogging is quite dorky isn't it and I only realised that this week... so not only am I a dork, I'm quite slow on the uptake too. No doubt any of you that have met me, will have noticed that already..!

My only excuse is that I'm still new(ish) to it and don't read enough of them to borrow other peoples great ideas. Of course I want it to be interesting/stimulating as possible so I thought I should put my neck on the line and ask - what can I do to improve the blog? Is there anything you would you like to see/hear more of/less of etc? I have lots of stuff in the pipeline but rarely enough time to put them together regularly enough so apologies for that in advance. I'm up to my nuts in work and this has to take a back seat occiasionally.

Part of what I am trying to do is promote cider and awareness about it and photos are most understood 'in context' which is why I try and say something in each post. I'm not a writer and often wonder if people wish I would shut up and say less, -just let the photography do the talking.

Maybe I should even do every other 3 or 4th post as pictures only?

Can I ask for any ideas or suggestions you may have for making the site more enjoyable, informative, useful, popular etc.

Maybe you have a comment on the photography itself? Is there anything you think I can do to improve it? Is there anything you'd like to see?

Suggestions please:

Thursday 10 November 2011

PGI's don't grow on trees you know

"Regard your good name as the richest jewel you can possibly be possessed of - for credit is like fire; when once you have kindled it you may easily preserve it, but if you once extinguish it, you will find it an arduous task to rekindle it again. The way to gain a good reputation is to endeavor to be what you desire to appear."
Thankyou Socrates. For the international among you who might be unsure, Protected Geographical Status (PGS) is a legal framework defined in European Union law to protect the names of regional foods. Protected Geographical Indication (PGI) is a legal status awarded to certain foodstuffs within that framework, linking certain products to a specific place. It ensures that only products genuinely originating from that place and made to a certain standard are can legally be identified as such. Its about identifying provenance and protecting the authentic. In the words of the Somerset Cider Brandy producer Julian Temperley 'its a way to stay legal' (which is an interesting paradox coming from the man known in the cider world as the 'bad boy of cider.')

Many people know of Julian - he is an outspoken Somerset based cidermaker who makes fantastic Burrow Hill cider, he runs the iconic Cider Bus at Glastonbury Festival and has also revived the art of distilling Somerset Cider Brandy. The farm is about a 15 minute drive from where I live and one of my local cider farms. Much of the work I have produced has come from Burrow Hill and much of the knowledge and opinion I have has been formed there.

In autumn 2007 whilst the world was unwittingly spending its way toward recession and Julian was just starting to think about pressing his apples, some busy beaver in Brussels decided that the descriptions that outline the regulations of spirits registered within the EU needed 'updating' and by January 2008, with no objections from our government, the term 'cider brandy' was dropped. The regulations still allowed for terms like cherry brandy, apricot brandy and grain brandy even, but curiously not apple brandy, making it illegal for anyone to use the term 'cider brandy' on the label. Of course, making anything alcoholic 'illegal' will only ever make it more popular and If I didn't know better, I would suspect Julian himself of unprecedented levels of guerrilla marketing.

In English, Brandy is a collective noun for distilled spirits made from fermented fruit, and although we've always called it that the change in law suddenly made it illegal to use that phrase anymore despite it being made from APPLES and hard evidence of production by that name here in Somerset as early as 1668! Calvados, Armagnac and Cognac are all regional forms of Brandy, so why, in our own language, can't we continue to use the term cider brandy? It was rather sneakily reclassified as 'cider spirit' which is somewhat more ambiguous (and a whole lot less sexy sounding) due to the fact that some producers in the warmer parts of Yurp were selling excess 'fruit spirit' (after having fulfilled their their own needs) to various countries for use in Vodka. Without that specific term (cider brandy) Julian realised the Somerset Cider Brandy Company would have lost the heritage that underpins the prestige Somerset Cider Brandy has, and even if it did survive, it would never have been the same again.

[Enter hero stage left] Graham Watson MEP:
"There was a whole Armada of Spanish Brandy producers desperate to stop things like cider brandy being on the market. When I learned about this I took up the cudgels on behalf of Somerset Cider Brandy"  Julian and Graham approached the European Commission and whilst they sympathised, they declined to amend the regulation but  promised to support a Somerset Cider Brandy application for PGI status if they wanted to apply.

Getting a PGI is a long drawn out process- its European bureaucracy with bells on. You have to wait 6 months for this and 6 months for that, then another 6 months for public consultation blah blah... at the end of which, if no-one objects, it gets automatically approved.  So it began and continued until, in a last minute and overtly dramatic twist at 4.30pm on April 9th 2010, half an hour away from a PGI, a dossier appears on a desk objecting to its approval. Any objection automatically leads to another 6 months of enforced (and in this case unpleasant) discussion with the objectors. Usually if an adult has a problem they let you know about it and problems are discussed, thats how Brussels likes to work, sensibly. The calculated last-minute appearance of a massive document like this denoted a snider approach to business than the Commission is used to dealing with, something that Julian refers to as the ambush in Brussels "It smelt like a problem from the Scots Whiskey Association. They deny it, but they have form, but it maybe the French, or both." Graham, rather diplomatically, phrases it differently "Ultimately within European politics – unlike the yah-boo of Westminster – it is the norm to work alongside opposing views to reach a satisfactory agreement." And so it continued. I can't go into every detail, its a very complex, long-winded if occasionally humorous saga that I am not intelligent enough to understand entirely. Although, at one stage, a simple grammatical error in an official letter to the Calvados producers association, Julian managed to address the president as 'My darling Mr. Bidou...' to the greatest amusement of the members. The whole rigmarole lasted for 4 long years... until they finally won it 16 votes for, with 1 abstention from Spain (Hola!) in September this year.

I asked Graham what made him go for it 'I was well aware of Julian’s local tipple. When he approached me for advice, I was happy to help. There were several moments through the application where I wondered if we would get agreement especially with those countries that produce the likes of Calvados. They – understandably – wanted to stand up for their producers.  I worked closely alongside Julian, UK civil servants the Commission officials.  I'm pleased to say, that after 4 years campaigning, we finally got PGI status. It was clear from a chain of text messages I was receiving that day that one-by-one Countries were saying they were happy with Cider Brandy’s PGI status. When emails confirming there wasn’t a problem from the likes of Spain and France came through I knew the matter was finally resolved. I am delighted for Julian! It’s a success for him, and for common sense."

Huzzah for common sense, which brings me onto my next point. Ironically, if you search through DEFRAs list of British registered PGI's there is nothing for cider in Somerset... it seems like we don't want one!

The Three Counties (Gloucester, Herefordshire and Worcester) all have PGI protected cider and perry, but Julian went on to explain the the different producers here favour different techniques to suit their specific needs and if you set a PGI (complete with strict production guidelines) the consequence will be a fracturing of the component parts what make up Somerset Cider is. Eg: Julian would push for 95% minimum cider apple juice, other (larger) producers would push for far less (no more than 40%) because they are significantly larger, more commercial operations and couldn't survive as they are using 95% fruit. Although not artisan (and to die hard cider snobs therefore 'inferior' - yawn) the larger industrial cidermakers in throughout the UK play an important role, selling huge amounts of cider in supermarkets and pubs giving structure to the industry. Part of Somerset Ciders particular appeal is that its so difficult to define definitely and we do have industrial scale cidermakers here that need to be considered too. Trying to pin down precisely the things a PGI status should protect would only split the region, and create a civil war within the counties cidermaker, the last thing we want.

I heard Julian talking to Slow Food about distilling and he summed it up this way'

 'Thats what we're really known for here... as distillers of traditional apples. It requires apples coming from known orchards grown in a traditional way without the benefit of artificial nitrogen and then it requires time, there's no way you can speed a maturing process, it is different wood and different barrels over time. Philosophy is a totally foreign concept in UK farming. UK farming tends to be Anglo-Saxon, it is practical; there is a question, there is a logical answer. Philosophy in a farmyard, in the past, would have no place but I think the Slow Food movement understands the philosophy of artisan production"

And those last five words are why Somerset Cider Brandy got its PGI. Huzzah to that too.

Tim, distiller at Somerset Cider Brandy Company

Warm cheese toastie
Eau de vie? (don't mind if I do)

Julian Temperley. Does he look like a man you would argue with?

3, 5, 10, 15 and 20 year old Somerset Cider Brandy

Limited edition Damien Hirst designed label for 20yr old Somerset Cider Brandy

Wednesday 2 November 2011

Shouting silently about Cider & Photography.

Part of being a self employed freelance photographer is taking some time to promote yourself properly. You have to brand yourself, think of yourself as a business (up to a point), allow yourself to detach emotionally from your work in order to look at yourself objectively. Any self employed person will tell you, it can be hard, especially for us arty types who are not doing what we do because its a sound business idea, we do it because we choose to. Its not like I'm completely crap at those jobs when I get stuck in, I just can't get interested in all of it. I hate numbers and accounts etc, much of running a business is keeping an eye on that. However, one of the areas I do tend to enjoy more than others is the marketing. So after last years decision on needing a logo or similar to represent what IAMCIDER is about I had to ask myself: How do you convey that 'Cider' and 'Photography' combination in one glance?

You could, and I probably should, argue that why use anything other than the medium you are trying to promote? My answer was that one photo might be one mans cup of tea, but not everyones. An illustrated suggestion has a different appeal and brings in an element of design, which I like. Ironically, people that recognise the design-process-at-work are the same kind of people that like my photos. Here is my 2010 attempt, I took me longer to even conceive the idea than it did to draw it, which says about all there is to say regarding my expertise in design.

What do you reckon?

It has to accompany press releases headers, banners and adorn posters etc so I wanted it to be simple, engaging and a little bit stylish. It has to stimulate anyone who interest in photography or apples into delving further into whats happening there and vice-versa. I also wanted people who had no idea what it was about want to ask. I can't help but feel it looks a little dated already...

Any clever designer types out there got anything to add? Any suggestions for improvement?

So then I thought... what if I try and mix the two ideas together? Use graphic photography with the illustration ideas overlaid. Its important that a flyer/poster, any promotional material is eye catching. I like it when something I'm looking at stops me and makes me look harder at it to figure out why.

Feedback please...!

Thursday 20 October 2011

Apple Day (21st October)

I've got apples on my mind (again) which is just as well as its Apple Day this Friday 21st October. Got any plans?
It occurs to me that Apple Day is such a great idea, why didn't we realise it was missing from our lives sooner? Apples are such everyday objects that we take for granted the fact that we can, and jolly well well should, celebrate them. 'A is for apple' has be one of the the earliest things we learn. 'An apple a day keeps the doctor away' is a proverb we repeat to remind ourselves to eat well in order to stay healthy. Adam and Eve's moment came after eating a stolen apple... do you see what I mean? When did you last stop and fully contemplate the apple, the relationship and affect it has had on humanity. Our relationship with it goes back for thousands of years, its stronger than ever and we still love them.

Time taken to celebrate everything great about apples is a masterstroke idea and maybe I could go so far as to suggest something we owe nature herself? Aren't simple ideas always the best ones. For 22 years Apple Day has been gathering pace and is now bigger than it ever has been. It was an idea that came from Sue Clifford and Angela King at Common Ground ...  

"The aspiration was to create a calendar custom. We have a way to go yet, but some already think the event is traditional. We should like the day to become the autumn holiday – what better celebration of a new era positively linking culture with nature.
From the start, it was intended to be both a celebration and a demonstration of the variety we are in danger of losing – not simply in apples, but richness and diversity of landscape, place, ecology and culture too. Its success has shown what the apple means to us and how much we need local celebrations in which, year after year, everyone can be involved. In city, town and country, Apple Day events have fostered local pride, celebrated and deepened interest in local distinctiveness."

Recently BBC4 aired a fantastic documentary Apples: British to the Core where they highlighted Britains particular role in the modern evolution of the apple. It really is worth a watch if you missed it, I know many people enjoyed it. I like to think I inspire the people responsible for the photography of programmes like that, I hope I do.

Apple Day is itself an opportunity for celebration through theatre, fun, education, and provenance. Its a PR dream for genus Malus and is a chance to play and reflect simultaneously. Cider has two occasions annually where the producers and partakers get together and make the time to celebrate cider - Apple Day being one of them, albeit slightly less raucous and more wholesome than Wassail (the other occasion.) Maybe the natural appeal of apples in general has a calming influence over mans hand in the creation and celebration of cider?

I am lucky enough to get invited to Burrow Hill annually where they always lay on a great day where everyone is free to have as much fun and drink as much as they like. Last year Alex James (Blur) was sleb in attendance, but in previous years we've had MP's (Graeme Watson), writers (Tom Parker-Bowles) and regional success stories Michael Brown (a la Brown & Forrest) as well as other nationally known foodie and Somerset types. This year we have Mark Hix and a chance to witness the launch coolest label I've seen in ages designed by Damien Hirst for Somerest Cider Brandy Companys fantastic 20 year old (and recently PGI accredited) cider brandy -there are only 500 limited edition labels up for grabs. Crappy phone snap of it here...

Its saying something when one of the reach of one of the worlds most internationally renowned and controversial artists casts his gaze towards Cider and leaves a part of himself here in Somerset. I think I'm right in saying he is from the Westcountry... maybe he too has a softspot for apples?
Next time you eat one (or see a piece of art by Damien Hirst) pause for a thought about apples, their long relationship with humanity, many uses and just how fantastic they are. They deserve a moment to savour and are something teach our younger loved ones about.

Monday 10 October 2011

Du Cidre Bretonaise.

In general, I find the French particularly difficult to break through to regarding the things I am trying to do; they seem a little more secretive and less interested. To put it into context, I've had more luck making contact Japanese applewine producers than French cidermakers, even though I've sent more e-mails and made more phone calls to establish a French connection but to no avail. They seem to make me want to work for it, which I enjoy, but it does cast a slightly different kind of light over them as a consequence. I started learning French at 7 and whilst I speak what can at best be described as pidgin French, I speak it with the confidence of a native which should surely count for something? Maybe they're just not that into e-mail or listening to their answer machines but you have to wonder - why have an email address or an answer machine if you don't use it? Anyway, I made some progress this year - I visited La Maison du Cidre in Le Hezo, Morhiban which was ok if a little tired. I had more luck and even a breakthrough at Domaine du Kinkiz just outside Quimper, Finistere. I already had an appointment nearby that afternoon at Paul Coic ciderie and needed to find somewhere local to visit in the morning. After a cappucinosworth of surfing I had turned up with a shortlist and these were the only guys that answered he phone. They were keen and seemed friendly. Unusually I had no idea what to expect after the essentials of cidermaking and it caught me off guard a bit. The cultural differences of shooting in another country really come into play from the moment the phone is answered. What was waiting for me at Kinkiz was fantastic and I wish I was more prepared for it and had allowed more time. Somewhere to revisit I think. I was fascinated with the passion for distilling, to the point where it's almost accepted that producing cider itself just a formality or necessity but less interesting than spirits. This is something I've encountered not so far from me in Somerset. These French spirits were really very good, I bought several bottles home and saving their opening for a special occasions. The 'Gwen' (Breton word for White) Eau de Vie tastes like nothing else I've ever tried before... it was amazing and I didn't particularly like Eau de Vie, until then.
The afternoon a visit to Paul Coic was completely different. He runs a small one man band Ciderie and didn't speak a single word of English. I didn't get offered any samples either so have no idea what his ciders taste like. However, I got a good dose of terroir at both places... the dusty cellars full of cobwebs and still, cool air.