CIDER lovers have been quenching their thirst in beer gardens and barbecues all summer but the next few months are crucial for the industry – because without any apples it cannot make the golden nectar.

A summer of good weather has meant this year’s cider apple harvest is set to be a bumper one.

It’s a tough job but someone has to do it – and the Perry family have been doing it for 100 years.

Over the next two months, they will collect about 500 tonnes of apples, mostly from their 35-acre orchards, and the rest from nearby growers, press the apples, ferment the juice and bottle it for sale.

George Perry, of Perry’s Cider in Dowlish Wake, talked about the ideal weather conditions for growing cider apples.

He said: “We prefer it to be cold in the winter, so that the trees go dormant, and then not too cold in the spring, otherwise a frost will kill off the blossom from the apple trees.

“In the summer you are looking for lots of sunshine because that helps produce more sugar in the apples and a little bit of rain. Too much dry weather or drought conditions are not good.”

Chard & Ilminster News:

George Perry in the orchards collecting apples.

Despite the wet winters of the last two years, the family has avoided disastrous crops. George said: “Some of the trees did not bear but thankfully, touch wood, our crop has always been consistent because when one variety of apples has not done well, another type has done really well.”

Cider making started in Dowlish Wake in 1920 when William Churchill acquired the family farm and started making cider as a sideline to his blacksmith business.

His nephews, Henry and Bert Perry, took the company over and pushed it forward and continued to experiment with craft ciders.

It then passed to Henry’s wife, Marguerite, and two sons John and Andrew Perry after Henry’s and Bert’s deaths.

Chard & Ilminster News:

George Perry explains how the cider is stored to reporter Daniel Milligan.

Cider is still fermented in the same way and until last year two hydraulic presses installed in the 1950s, which have squeezed more than seven million pints of cider each, were used.

Today the company is run by George Perry, grandson of Henry Perry, who is helped by family members including his father, John, who oversees the business.

Once the apples are collected, they are pressed and the juice is collected in large fermentation vessels.

The dried pulp is sent to nearby farms to feed their animals.

George said: “As craft cider makers we use both traditional and modern production methods to continually improve our ciders, such as using 100% juice fermentations and small batch techniques, coupling these with more modern ageing techniques.”

The taste and strength of alcohol is controlled by deciding how long to leave the juice to ferment or age in 20ft high containers or barrels before final packaging.

Chard & Ilminster News:

The machine can fill up to 12,000 bottles of cider a day.

Perry’s Cider is best known for its single variety ciders produced from a one variety of cider apple, such as the Somerset Redstreak or Dabinett apple. These are bottled soon after the juice is nearly or fully fermented to retain the apple variety’s full character and fruity taste.

Perry’s Cider’s hardwork paid off when it won The Arthur David Award at the British Cider Championships with its 50cl Somerset Dabinett bottle.

George’s father, John, said the cider market was growing: “Cider is seen as a premium drink now. Long gone are the times when cider was only associated with drinking cheap cider on street corners.

“Young people are drinking cider responsibly now rather than binge drinking on it and we price ourselves so that people can’t use Perry’s Cider to drink our products in that way.”

Thatchers Cider, fermented in north-east Somerset, has just broken into the United States but the family says it wants to concentrate on quality rather than quantity.

Chard & Ilminster News:

The orchards at Dowlish Wake near Ilminster.

Perry’s specialises in niche full juice ciders and is at the other end of the spectrum to the larger UK commercial cider producers.

Looking to the future, the family said: “Over the next ten to 15 years we want to keep building the company in a sustainable way, so that the family business can flourish for another 100 years.

“We are not looking for a way to make quickmoney, wewant to maximise on our strengths, keep investing in the company and improving the product.

“The business is growing fast but we know we have a lot of work ahead of us to capitalise on the ever increasing number of cider drinkers who demand more and are keen to know the provenance of their ciders.

“Key to this is having more of a presence in the local pubs within Somerset and the South-West, allowing consumers a greater choice of local craft ciders."

“The cider market is still buoyant and our focus is still very much on craft ciders marrying traditional methods with a modern twist but we don’t want to give all our family secrets away.”