On Leaf Fermentation

Yarlington Mill, On-leaf Cider

How an Old Text and Innovations in Wine Making Inspired an Entirely New Cider Making Technique

Nearly two years of biting my tongue is over! I am extremely proud to reveal the first results of some very secret work we’ve been up to at the Cider Works.

I confess that most would find my obsession with the history of cider a little odd. Most would feel the same about my insistence on spending the hours I do pouring over microbiological research and trial data. It’s probably time to admit I’m a bore. However, I feel that the world should be pleased that I’m safely left alone in a Cider house, and not boring a classroom full of disinterested teenagers.

It was a combination of these two interests that led to the recent trials with our cider. Reading a text on cider making written by Georges Warcollier in the early 1900s, I noticed a comment about adding leaves to a yeast propagation trial. Warcollier never extended the trial but his observations that there were interesting aromas was enough for me. Then, talking to Jon Day, our Sales Director here at Sandford Orchards about this finding he mentioned new techniques in wine making (he’s also a winemaker) where vineyards are experimenting with fermenting whole bunches of grapes to maximise flavour. If it works for wine, then why not cider? Using this technique we believed we could create a cider with unique and improved aroma by fermenting the juice on fresh apple leaves.

So, back in October we stripped full healthy leaf at harvest from a strong local bittersweet cider apple tree (a Sweet Alford). We chose rich verdant leathery leaves from a 10 year old tree. The leaves were introduced to fresh single variety Yarlington Mill juice in a loosely bound press-cloth and allowed to interact freely with the fermentation. We removed the leaf pack when the cider reached dryness. Our leaf ratio was 600g of leaf/1000L of fresh juice.

We fermented a control batch using an identical vessel with the same, juice and fermentation conditions. Both ciders underwent a straight- forward fault free fermentation. The results were quite frankly, astonishing. The on-leaf fermentation produces a profoundly more impressive bouquet with increased complexity and subtlety. Blind tastings of the juice have produced a wide range of comments pronouncing the juice “fresher and fruiter, with extra zing”.

Because we knew we were doing something unique, we wanted support from a world leading institution for our work. Our connection with The University of Exeter goes back more than a decade, a relationship which was initiated by the inspirational Professor Ken Haynes. A world class research mycologist. He offered his help and expertise to drive the plan forward.

Working with his team at the the school of biosciences, at Exeter University we are now working with them on metabolic pathway profiling of the microbes present in the on-leaf fermentations, gene sequencing and comparing the microbiome on the leaves to that in the flesh is all underway. As well as fascinating, new unexpected results will help to keep this vitally important South West institution as a leader in the field of mycological research.

A small release of this first batch “Yarlington Mill, On-leaf” will be available but with only 100 cases of this cider being packed you’re not going to see it in a supermarket any time soon!

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