Herefordshire is cider country, and as we were staying a couple of miles from Weston’s at Much Marcle, we decided to take the tour.
I had seen cider being made before, up at Wells, where Whin Hill have their facilities by the car park next to what was the Ark Royal pub, so I knew the basics, which involve collecting apples, squeezing the juice out and leaving it to ferment for a few months.
How different could Weston’s be? The first thing that I noticed was the sheer scale of the operation.
Whin Hill have their own orchard at Stanhoe, which is around 17 acres, while Weston’s buy just about every apple grown within 25 miles of their factory.
The cider making may have started as a source of extra income on the farm when it was set up on 1880 by Henry Weston, but it rapidly expanded.
The horse drawn press was soon replaced by steam power, which could mill four tonnes of apples per hour before the juice was pressed and pumped into enormous wooden fermenting vats.
The vats are still there but the pressing and milling is now done by machines and the capacity increased to 10 tonnes per hour.
The skyline is dominated by huge stainless-steel tanks where the finished product is stored for maybe a year before being packaged and sold. There is the old joke about someone drowning in a fermenting vat and getting out three times to use the toilet before his demise, and these wooden vats are easily big enough to drown in.
The oldest of the 72 holds 42,107 gallons and is the size of a house. Called Squeak, it is over 200 years old and along with Pip and Wilfred came from a West Midlands brewery. The newest are ex Coca-Cola vats which were acquired in the early 50’s. Many of them are named after football clubs.
I spotted Hereford United, where family member Leonard was once chairman, Arsenal and Aston Villa. The famous bull called Ronaldo, which is paraded before Hereford games and which made a trip to Wembley in 2016 is owned by the company and lives on the farm. In total, Weston’s produce around 25 different varieties of cider and perry, and I assumed that each type of apple (they use over 100) would be processed separately, but this is not the case.
The local farmers arrive with their apples in any quantity from 100 kilos to a lorry load, and after weighing they are all tipped into the same bunker and processed.
After fermentation, the cider in the tanks is tasted and then blended in a special tank to achieve the required flavour. Perhaps the best-known is Stowford Press, a brand which was originally developed for Cameron’s brewery.
Another favourite is Old Rosie, named after a 1921 steam-roller which lives at the brewery and can be seen around the agricultural shows, which in turn was named after the Laurie Lee book, Cider with Rosie.
Am I a convert to the order of the apple? I thought the trip was really interesting and it reminded me of the old sugar beet factory in Lynn which I toured once.
The samples at the end were very tasty. However, even down in cider country, breweries such as Wye Valley and Ledbury are producing some great ale.