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Old school brews a success

Andrew and Sally Walker, co-founders of the award-winning Remutaka Cidery in South Featherston. PHOTOS/ERIN KAVANAGH-HALL

From an overgrown apple orchard to an award-winning cottage industry – life is sweet (though their cider is on the dry side) for Remutaka Cidery. ERIN KAVANAGH-HALL chats to co-founders Andrew and Sally Walker.

Kingston Black apples in the Walker’s orchard.

When Andrew and Sally Walker bought their land in South Featherston in 2014, it consisted of “a paddock and a thicket” – which happened to contain 320 apple trees, and two varieties of heritage cider apples.

The apple trees were the legacy of the former Ciderhouse Orchard, producer of the Three Rivers brand which, when the Walkers arrived, had been inactive for at least a decade.

The couple were initially advised to rip out the trees – but couldn’t bear to see their fruit go to waste.

“Wherever we’ve lived, we’ve always wanted to make the most of our surroundings,” Sally said.

“We had all these apples, and we wanted to see what we could do with them.

“So, we decided to have a crack at restoring the orchard.”

Eight years later, the Walkers agree they made the right decision.

Their Longwood East Road property is now home to their new business, Remutaka Cidery – and their traditionally-brewed cider can be found in eateries and supermarkets throughout South Wairarapa and is the recipient of a national award.

The Walkers take a more “old school” approach, making cider in small increments over a year-long period, to produce a sharp, drier beverage, similar to classic English brews.

Remutaka Cidery’s entire process is carried out on site: from brewing in Andrew’s 28 square metre shed, through to the final bottling and labelling.

And their approach has paid off – with their Kingston Black cider taking home a bronze medal in the 2021 New Zealand Cider Awards.

“That was exciting – it’s definitely encouraged us to keep going and produce more,” Andrew said.

“New Zealanders aren’t as used to the drier ciders – but more people are giving them a try, and we’ve had some wonderful feedback.

“It feels good – we’re very much focused on quality, and it reminds us we’re on to something good.”

Remutaka Cidery started with the orchard restoration process, which the Walkers said was “lots of hard work”.

“In the end, we went through two whole lawnmowers cutting the grass down,” Sally said.

“The branches had grown across each other to the point where you couldn’t walk down the rows.

“So, we had to do a lot of chainsaw pruning. But you have to be careful with apple trees – if you prune them too quickly, they either get a fright and won’t grow, or they’ll go ‘whoosh’ and overgrow the following year.”

In 2015, Andrew started brewing cider as a hobby – making himself a wooden press and crushing apples in a bucket on their front porch.

Eventually, he honed his skills with a course through the Cider Collective, attending in-person sessions in Hamilton and Tauranga.

A keen bargain hunter, Andrew sourced more advanced brewing tools from TradeMe or from companies upscaling their equipment: including a milling machine for crushing the apples, a hydro press to extract the juice, and large barrels for fermenting.

Cider brewing, he said, cannot be rushed.

“It’s not like beer, which is very industrialised. It’s very seasonal – you pick your apples in autumn, ferment them in winter, bottle your cider in spring, and sell it in summer.

“It’s quite scientific. Different types of apples can ferment in unique ways and react to different strains of yeast.

“It’s a natural process. There are no additives – you’re going with what the fruit gives you.”

The Walkers use the English Kingston Black apple which, typical of cider apples, contains a mix of sugar, acid and tannin.

Tannin acts as a natural preservative, which influences the ageing process of the cider, and produces a drier feel in the mouth.

“On their own, cider apples taste disgusting – like carboard,” Sally said.

Remutaka Cidery supplies to supermarkets and restaurants throughout South Wairarapa. PHOTO/SUPPLIED

“But they do make an amazing juice.”

The Walkers also grow the French Mettais apple, which has a higher sugar content – and plan on developing a more “bittersweet” cider with this variety.

Andrew and Sally said Remutaka Cidery is very much a family affair – with their two children, 16-year-old Katie and 14-year-old Daniel, taking part in the business.

Katie is an expert apple picker, while Daniel helps his dad with the bottling.

“It can be hard to motivate teenagers to do anything – but they really enjoy it,” Sally said.

At present, their Kingston Black cider is sold at Fresh Choice and Cuckoo in Greytown, P&K and Tonic Bistro in Martinborough, and C’est Cheese and Brac & Bow in Featherston.

“It goes very well with food – particularly with blue cheese and creamy chicken dishes.”

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