|2012 Apple Crop: the Elstar (normal size but scarce); Dabinett (plentiful enough but smaller than usual).|
How do you know a real craft cider-maker?
Wait until September or October (or November, as I did) and check his hands. Has he got what looks like a false tan on the digits? If he has, that is the confirmation you need that he has handled tons of apples, the “tan” created by the tannins in the fruit.
And tannins weren’t the only link between cider and wine, as Stonewell’s Daniel Emerson explained to me in his base in Carrigaline this week. The press he uses is a wine press on hire from a French wine-maker who uses it for just two weeks each year whereas Stonewell use it for six months.
Stonewell have just moved much of the operation from the family home in nearby Nohoval. “The scale is very different here,” said Daniel as he surveyed his expensively assembled “production line”: the forklift, the wash tank, the mill, the maceration tank, the press and the four huge tanks where the cider is finished off.
|New base for Daniel Emerson and his Stonewell cidery.|
But it wasn’t the best of years for the apple crop of 2012, quite the reverse in fact. The eating apples (used mainly in the medium dry cider) blossomed abundantly in March only to be hammered by the frosts in April. That made them very scarce and expensive.
|In the wash.|
The bad summer led to a lack of pollination for the cider apples (varieties here are Michelin and Dabinett) and growth was slow. The supply is pretty good though and with the firm also securing a supply of Elstar eating apples, it is full steam ahead in Carrigaline.
By the way, with the exception of the glass bottles, everything in a Stonewell cider is Irish – apples, labels, cartons, elbow grease, Atlantic sea air and all! “We don’t use any artificial sweeteners and we definitely don’t add any chemical additives to tweak the natural flavour of our cider.”
Considering the amazing impact the Nohoval cider has had in its short life, I was quite surprised to find such a small team sharing the workload: Daniel himself, his wife Geraldine, Ralph and Eamon, all dedicated to getting the very best out of those precious apples. The small Nohoval facility is not being abandoned and will be used to tweak the juices, both creative and fruit, to come up with a different cider. Watch this space.
For the third time in five days, it has been my privilege to meet people who are willing to take a chance on and in this country, to get down and get their hands dirty, to invest their time and money in giving us better food and better drink. Support them by buying local and buying Irish.