To the ever-growing number of cider-drinkers in the know, Prospect Orchard is instantly recognisable as the home of Welsh Mountain Cider, the cidery, heritage orchard and tree nursery run by proprietors Bill and Chava. Jo and I were invited for a tour and tasting session when we signed up to the Welsh Mountain Cider cider club earlier in the year, and took up that invitation this week, on a glorious summer’s day.
We made our way up to Prospect Orchard from the A470 between Llanidloes and Caersws, driving along narrow, hedgerow-hemmed lanes that rather sadly blocked much of the view of the rolling Welsh countryside all around. Arriving at the orchard, we were warmly greeted by Chava, and also met a hiker who, much younger and fitter than us, was trekking along Glyndŵr’s Way and had just happened to stumble upon Welsh Mountain Cider en-route. He was very glad indeed that he had, but had to push on and so couldn’t stay around for the tour. Chava offered us a welcoming cup of cider, the Redstreak 2020, which was packed with full fruity flavours and soft but distinctly dry tannins – before Bill arrived to take us on a walking tour of the orchard.
As we strolled, Bill told us the back-story of the six acre site, which he acquired fourteen years ago; the trees, of which there are now around 550 different heritage cider and dessert varieties planted; and the ethos of Welsh Mountain Cider, which is strongly rooted in an elegant simplicity: minimal intervention is the basis of his and Chava’s approach to both the growing of their fruit and the making of their rather superb cider. As far as the latter goes, Bill said that he and Chava just grow the apples, press the apples, leave the juice alone to ferment until they think it’s turned into cider, then taste-test the results and, if they’re happy, bottle it and sell it to their growing legion of satisfied customers and cider club members.
As we walked around the site, enjoying the sunshine and swatting at the occasional, lazily buzzing horsefly, Bill pointed out a few trees of particular interest and we discussed pruning regimes – he generally allows the trees to grow into their natural forms without attempting to hard prune for shape or structure and only stepping in to rectify over-crowding or manage disease issues – and fruit thinning, of which none is carried out, individual fruit size not being an issue when the fruit is wanted for cider, juice or vinegar-making, rather than to sell for eating fresh.
Bill showed us the nursery plot, where newly-grafted trees are raised for two or three years before being sold and despatched to orchards around the country. I think this is a hugely important element of the work that Bill and Chava do at Welsh Mountain Cider; preserving and making available rare and interesting heritage varieties and cultivars of apples to similarly-minded orchardists who want to do their bit to preserve the genetic diversity and historical legacy of these otherwise all-too-easily lost apples. If I’m ever given the opportunity to start another Manchester-based orchard from scratch then I’d definitely look to order my stock from Prospect Orchard. It seems only sensible to think that apple trees grafted and grown at altitude in mid-Wales would be far more likely to survive and thrive in our own neck of the woods than those raised in the very different climes of the south of the country.
Bill also told us how pleased he was with the rich meadow sward that has been developing in the orchard over the course of the past fourteen years. Originally the land was heavily sheep-grazed and typically bereft of biodiversity as a result, but gradually a wide range of plant species, including several rather lovely grasses, plenty of yellow rattle and other native wildflowers have established themselves and are now out-competing the usual ‘weeds’, including the nettles, docks and thistles that are largely ubiquitous on the heavily compacted soils of the neighbouring sheep farms.
My overall impression of Prospect Orchard was one of peaceful harmony. Yes, there must be times of the year when the hillside rattles with the sound of the ride-on mower as the meadows are cut back, and I’m sure at pressing time the place is a hive of energetic activity, but on a shining, hot afternoon in June, far from any traffic-noise and surrounded by the undulating, verdant green of the Welsh borders, I couldn’t really imagine a more blissful place to be.
I was also deeply impressed, both by the scope of the orchard – 550 varieties of apples, pears and other fruits and nuts – and by the ethical stance and quiet ambition of a couple who are determined to focus deeply on their land, their trees and their cider-making, without succumbing to the constant striving for more of this, that, the other and everything else, that afflicts so many in our modern society. As Bill put it, if they could reach the point where a few hundred cider clubbers were happy to buy the majority of their cider every year and by so doing allow them to keep on growing and gradually expanding their tree collection, and keep on hosting their weekend get-togethers then he for one would consider the Welsh Mountain Cider project a huge success.
We finished the tour with more chat and a cider tasting session. Jo had offered to drive back to our hotel, so I was able to sample and enjoy a glass (or two…) of three of Bill and Chava’s glorious ciders the Prospect Orchard 2020, a blend of juices from over 300 varieties of apple; the Prospect Pet Nat 2019, which I think is due to make an appearance at the Bristol Cider Salon dinner next weekend; and the recently-released single variety Jonagold 2021.
All three were absolutely delicious and also quite distinct from one another, yet again demonstrating the great range of flavours and sensory textures than can be achieved via the deceptively simple method of allowing apple juice to ferment under the influence of the natural yeasts on their skins, without amendment, additives or undue interference. If your palate sings to the tune of robust tannins then you’ll love the Pet Nat 2019, and if a deep, mellow fruitfulness sounds like it would be more your preference then I can heartily recommend the Jonagold.
When Jo and I left Prospect Orchard in the late afternoon sunshine, I was clutching a couple of newly-purchased bottles – a Kingston Black 2020, which was in my last cider club box and really was superb, and one of the Jonagold 2021. I’ll be drinking those, along with the last bottle from my previous cider subscription, the Petrichor 2019, over the next couple of weekends, ready for the next selection to arrive in July. Departing back down the mountainside, Jo and I were full of gratitude to Bill and Chava for their time and hospitality, full of the sheer joy of Prospect Orchard, and in my case, very happily full of some of the very best cider you’re likely to find in the UK today.
As you might have noticed by now, I’m a huge fan of Welsh Mountain Cider and I fully intend to remain a cider club member for many years to come. I do urge you to take a look at their cider club offering and consider joining up yourself. Bill and Chava thoroughly deserve those few hundred loyal fans and I really don’t think you’ll be in any way disappointed by the cider they send you three times a year. If (when!) you do join, please feel free to raise a glass with me, to the elegant simplicity of wonderful apple trees and the delicious cider that’s made from their fruit.
|⇧1||Spot the non-botanist…|
|⇧2||If fresh air, folk music, great cider and camping out in the Welsh mountains are your thing then you should definitely keep an eye on their Twitter feed for details of upcoming gatherings.|
|⇧3||Confession time: I forgot to make notes, so let’s hope I’ve remembered these correctly…|