Johnny Fall Down
A farm that has been recovered from a semi-wilderness is the unlikely scene for a craft cider revolution. Thanks to Dave and Barry of Johnny Fall Down we had a tour of the fields at Killahora (Glounthaune) last week where the south-facing slopes are planted with over 40 varieties of apple.
Not just apples. Pears are there in abundance. And other fruits trees too, including damson, plums. Even though this current operation started in 2010/11, there is a orchard history here, going back through the centuries, evidenced by an old wall (a relic of a walled garden). And reminders in the hedgerows, gnarled old crab trees and some wilding too.
And it is not just fruit either. Dave has a particular interest in trees and plants and so here you’ll find some rare ones, everything from tiny Bee Orchids to huge (not yet!) Sequoias.
They focus on the rare apple varieties here, Barry tells me, as we climb the slopes. “They give us more punch.” And you can try that for yourself. Their first product, the Johnny Fall Down rare apple cider, is available around Cork city in various pubs including Cask and The Roundy.
The south-facing slopes are ideal. It just seems warmer there. And, by the way, there is a fantastic view, a panorama of Cork harbour and estuary and the islands, including nearby Harper’s and Fota. And birds of prey hover above on the thermals.
All the apples and pears (already in flower) are planted in neat rows, all tidy and well maintained. But those twisted old crabs trees in the hedgerows are amazing. The first one that we saw had hundreds of little apples, many of them quite sound, on the ground underneath, months after they had fallen.
|Dave (left) and Barry|
And they'll soon have company. Dave and Barry intend to plant fruits and herbs in and about the hedgerows. In a few years time, you'll see cherries and more in the wild.
We were just in time to see Dave do a bit of grafting, a Turner’s Barn pear was being introduced to its host Pyro Dwarf. First he cut the Turner’s, at about 45%, down to the Cambium (layer of tissue in the middle), and repeated the procedure on the host. Then, the tricky part, making a tongue and groove so that the union would be even better.
|from an old crab apple tree!|
Then he bound the two with a bio-degradable tape (keeps in the moisture and allows the graft to take) and it was ready to go. “Not rocket science,” he humbly admitted. But still one just had to admire the enthusiasm and the precision as he demoed the ancient art. After the demo, it was work as hundreds remained to be done!
Then, time for a tasting, starting with some of the single varietals. Some had the acidity to the fore, others sugar, others tannins. Getting the balance right is the challenge for Barry in the months and years ahead.
|Could be drinking from the fruit of this in about five years time!|
It won't be just cider. Already one of their products, a pommeau, is being used in cocktails. Barry also plans a Perry, champagne style! Perhaps the one that made the biggest impression on me was the Ice Cider, even if it was still only half-way on its journey. I usually - inadvertently, I hastily add - pick the expensive ones. “A lot of juice required to make this!”.
And soon we would say goodbye and leave this beautiful part of the parish behind. The terroir seems to be just perfect for purpose and Dave and Barry complement each other perfectly also. Their knowledge and expertise is top notch.
|Pear bursting out|
And there is enthusiasm in abundance. More importantly though, there is patience, there is no rush, they’ll wait for nature (magic in those hedgerows in years to come) and produce accordingly. I can’t wait to see what Killahora comes up with next but Dave and Barry can and their products will be all the better for it. Watch this space.
|An old crab tree|
And what of the man himself? We read on our sample bottle that Johnny Fall Down is a rare apple cider, bitter-sweet with an abv of 5.5%, made from 42 varieties of cider, many of them unique to the Glounthaune producers. It has a lovely light amber colour, bubbles galore on the rise. Aromas hint of really ripe orchard fruit and there are hints of tropical fruit on the well balanced palate. The "rosé like" finish comes from a mix "of rarer tannins" that have matured for six months. Well worth waiting for!