From French, Spanish and Geology to Cidermaking Q&A with Peckham’s Cider

 

Alex and Caroline Peckham started the orchard in 2007 and began making cider in 2010. Photo of Alex Peckham.

Alex and Caroline Peckham started the orchard in 2007 and began making cider in 2010. Photo of Alex Peckham.

To be a passionate cidermaker you don’t need to have a school background in cider; the Peckham’s are proving that with their New Zealand based ciderhouse.

Written by Tess Jewell-Larsen
Photographs provided by Peckham’s Cider

In a country that lies below the equator, where its inhabitants are known as Kiwis and their neighbors are said to live down-under, exists a ciderhouse dedicated to the lore of craft cider.

The ciderhouse is located in the valley of one New Zealand’s earliest European settlements, the Moutere Valley at the top of the South Island. The valley also happens to boast New Zealand’s prime fruit growing area—and the maximum number of sunshine hours in the country.

Caroline and Alex Peckham, relatively new New Zealand implants, have spent the last six years developing the one of the biggest cider orchards in New Zealand and the last three making cider. They might not have studied cidermaking, or even realized in their younger years that life would take them to cidermaking, but the British expats seem quite keen on doing their best.

Caroline was nice enough to spend time answering questions about their ciderhouse: Peckham’s Cider.

Tess Jewell-Larsen: The website it says that you studied French and Spanish and Alex studied Geology; so why cider?

Caroline Peckham: I don’t think either of us had any inkling while at university that we would be running a cider orchard and ciderhouse 30 years down the line! The wonderful thing about life, of course, is that it puts you up to new challenges if you’re prepared to give them a go, so when we found a great piece of land near Nelson in NZ which grew stunning tasting apples, the cider challenge beckoned. We have both always enjoyed real cider, had grown cider apples as a hobby, and had a longstanding desire to make cider, so one thing led to another. The great thing about our backgrounds, is that we are well trained for research and analytical thought, both of which have been invaluable with apple growing and cidermaking!

TJL: From what it looks like you and Alex are originally from the UK, is that correct? Why did you decide to move to New Zealand to start a ciderhouse?

CP: We are originally from the UK, although I am half French, and both Alex and I are fluent French speakers, and have many connections with France. We moved to NZ in 2003, attracted by the space, small population and the positive attitude of the people. The opportunity to buy land on which we could create a cider orchard and produce a high quality artisan product followed. Craft cider is something of a rarity in New Zealand, and it is exciting to be bringing an old European tradition into the country.

TJL: When did you start Peckham’s Cider?

CP: We began creating the cider orchard in 2007, having bought a 16 ha orchard and boysenberry garden. We began our program of grafting over to cider varieties, gradually moving through the whole orchard, and then replacing the boysenberries with new apple plantings. Our first craft cider was produced 3 years later in Autumn 2010, and we are about to start our 4th year of harvest and production.

TJL: Why the name Peckham’s Cider?

CP: Peckham is an original Anglo-Norman name, meaning “village on the hill”; we felt an old English name for our traditional English style cider was fitting, and of course it is our family name, and this is very much a family business.

TJL: Can you describe the location of the ciderhouse?

CP: The ciderhouse is on Neudorf Road in the Moutere Valley, 40 kms west of Nelson, at the top of the South Island. It lies in New Zealand’s prime fruit growing area, which boasts the maximum number of sunshine hours in NZ. The Moutere Valley is one of NZ’s earliest European settlements, with strong German origins, and is home to the oldest pub in NZ. It is an area rich in creative and productive people; there are many family run artisan businesses producing amazing wines, olive oils, cheeses, mushrooms, fruit, and beautiful sculptures, ceramics and art. It’s a wonderful place to live and work.

TJL: I’ve noticed that on your website it says that you have the “largest cider orchard in the heart of the Moutere Valley.” How big is your orchard? How many varieties of apple trees do you have? Can you name of few?

CP: Cider orchards are far and few between in NZ, and the few in existence are generally small scale. Although we are by no means big compared to commercial orchards, we believe we have the largest collection of cider apples in the country, with around 4000 cider trees, grafted to over 20 different cider apple varieties. In addition we have 1000 pear trees and 1 ha of boysenberries. And lots more room for planting more cider apples!

Some of the cider apples we grow are the old English favorites like Kingston Black, Sweet Alford, Chisel Jersey, Broxwood Foxwhelp, Knotted Kernel and Sweet Coppin. With so many different varieties, it’s always a balance at harvest time between managing the early apples and the later ones, which can ripen two and a half months after the first apples have been picked.

Peckham's Cider works with three different types of cider: Traditional English cider, perry and fruit infused ciders.

Peckham’s Cider creates three different styles of cider: Traditional English cider, perry and fruit infused ciders.

TJL: You mention that your varieties come from South West England, France and Spain. How do the trees react differently to New Zealand climate?

CP: Well one thing is certain—they do behave differently here! For example, many people think that ripening times mirror UK ripening times with a 6-month difference, but not so; they tend to ripen at least a month ahead. Although we are on a similar latitude to the Asturias cider producing region of Spain, tree behavior does not correlate, as our climatic conditions are so different. A major difference is the intensity of the NZ sun compared to Europe or the USA. A big problem for us is that the apples get sunburned, and this leads to internal rot. This is particularly true of the pale skinned apples – just like people. As harvest approaches, we coat these apples with a clay wash, which helps protect them against the sun!

In terms of the cidermaking, the conditions are also very different. Our NZ autumns, for example, are much warmer than UK autumns, and so temperature control of ciders as they mature, particularly those from the early apple varieties, is important to keep the ferments nice and slow—something that would happen naturally in the UK with the cooler temperatures. We are monitoring and learning all the time how differently the trees behave here, and with such little history in NZ of cider apple growing, you are really on your own much of the time!

TJL: What types of cider do you make?

CP: Our flagship cider is traditional English style cider, made with 100% cider apple juice. We produce several blends in this style, and these vary from year to year depending on the orchard and weather conditions each season. Our single variety Kingston Black cider is about to hit the market—very rare in New Zealand! We have also made a rich, full bodied, deep amber colored Chisel Jersey blend specifically for hand-pump taps, which is launched this month in Auckland—another historic event for NZ!
We make a perry from our pears (sadly not true perry pears, as these appear to be non-existent in NZ). We also make some fruit ciders; elderflower, boysenberry, blackcurrant—again, made as traditionally as possible, using freshly pressed juice, mostly from fruit grown on our orchard, blended with a farm cider base.

Our philosophy is to create cider without compromise: No short cuts and minimum intervention.

Shane of Peckham's Cider is handpicking the cider apples. Peckham's cider has one of the biggest cider orchards in New Zealand.

Shane of Peckham’s Cider is handpicking the cider apples. Peckham’s cider has one of the biggest cider orchards in New Zealand.

TJL: What is the cider culture like in New Zealand?

CP: New Zealand has virtually no history of a “craft cider” culture—a few cider apples have been grown in hobby orchards, and only very recently are people becoming interested in them. Historically, nearly all NZ cider has been made using juice from cheap, packhouse reject dessert apples, and ends up pale in color and usually fizzy and sweet. It’s often made from a high alcohol apple wine, which is then diluted and sweetened into a cider over a period of a few weeks. Very different to our ciders which mature in the tanks for a minimum of 6 months, many for up to a year!

It is only very recently that discerning consumers here have become aware that there is such a thing as “cider apples”, and that the drink made with these tastes quite different to industrially produced cider.

TJL: Is craft cider a common beverage where you live in New Zealand, or is it mainly commercial cider like Strongbow?

CP: Craft cider is by no means a common beverage in NZ, and the majority of people drink industrial cider. The good news is that there is now a growing awareness of the difference in types of ciders, and hopefully more small-scale producers will be creating traditional style ciders over the coming years.