from Hart's Farm, Australia
Why Hart's Farm?
Experimentation, sophistication and a good honest approach. Graeme has put a huge amount of thought and effort into his cider and it all starts with the apples! Planting a cider apple orchard is a commitment and Graeme and Penny are certainly not the types to shy away from getting stuck in and giving it a go. When we first met Graeme and Penny they were crushing pears for their first perry ferment and met us with a glass of cider with a hint of rhubarb! It was delicious and showed how a little experimentation here and there can yield great results. Graeme is a doctor by trade and brings a scientific approach and a keen eye for detail to the cider making. It really shows and the cider is delicious. Plenty more to come from Hart's.
Listen on the go - Interview with Graeme from Hart's Farm
Nathaniel: Okay, so can you tell us a little bit about your background then, please?
Graeme: Well, my wife Penny and I have been owners of this property on the MorningtonPeninsula for about 20 years now and we purchased it as a lifestyle choice, having quite intense occupations in the city, and with a young family that we wanted to bring backdown to the peninsula, where both of us had spent many happy years as children with our own families. My youngest daughter, Rachael, was riding horses at the time and we needed a paddock for the horse, and we needed something to pay for the paddock. So,we started off restoring the property, which had been mainly used as a cattle property,and so the string line had pretty much been trashed. We restored the wetlands, planted a whole stack of indigenous tree windbreaks, and had some whole farm planning done. And subsequently, put in 12 hundred olive trees which are now into their 15th year of production, and are producing award-winning olive oils every year. So, we’re very pleased with that. And we do some table olives as well.And in more recent times, with the huge increase in the proximity of the area to Melbourne with the opening up of Peninsula Link, we have decided to try and diversify a little bit and have a farm gate open. And it’s probable that people enjoy a multifaceted experience when they come to a farm gate, so we decided that we would look at diversifying our property. And given that Red Hill Main Ridge, where we are, has traditionally been an apple orchard area, and given the increasing popularity of cider, we decided that we would explore the opportunities from planting some heritage cider trees.So, we’ve now got the trees into their fourth year. We’ve purchased about a hundred traditional English cider varieties initially, and we’ll be putting in another 200-odd trees in the next 12 or 18 months with a slight diversification, meaning just some French andAmerican cider varietals as well. And we’ve decided to plant all of those on a trellised arrangement so that we can easily net them, because the parrots and cockatoos down here are very partial to apple flowers and young fruit. So, we’ve organised it in that manner. And over the last three years, we’ve been exploring different styles of cider and done a lot of rapid learning and consultation with local wine makers and other artisan beverage producers down here. And now we’ve got to the point where we’re into our second year of commercial production.
Nathaniel: Yeah, and that’s quite different and unique, then, to have such a wide range of heritage fruit from different countries as well. Don’t see many cider makers with that.
Graeme: Yeah. Well, it’s interesting. As part of it, we did a fair bit of wide reading. And given that the climate down here is a cool climate, the traditional English varieties seemed a reasonable way to go, in the same way as we selected our olive varietals to match the latitude here. And so, our olive varietals are all Tuscan varieties, and we’re on a similar latitude south to Tuscany being north of the equator. So, with that in mind, we went with the English varietals to begin with, and they’ve all done quite well. There’s one or two that seem to be a little bit more sensitive to some of the pests down here, and others a bit more resistant. So, in our second planting, we’ve optimised the selection for the more robust varieties so that we can minimise any sprays and so forth.
Nathaniel: Yeah, and I think it’s worth talking about that a little bit as well. So, like you said,you’re not quite at organic certification, but not far off.
Graeme: We’ve had a very, I guess, pragmatic approach to the organics. Certification is challenging. There are a number of other – these are small land holdings and we can’t control what other local farmers put on their property that might blow in that we can’t necessarily control. But most of the people in this region are pretty environmentally conscious. We use mainly just certified products, such as sulphur, white oil and pelargonic acid for weed control. We did experiment with having some sheep on the property for controlling weeds around the olive trees at one stage, but they ended up ring barking fifty trees and we gave that away as a dead loss. So, it is challenging because it’s such a fertile area down here that weed control is quite challenging, so we use a variety of mulches, weed mats, and the occasional pelargonic acid, and a fair bit of bending and pulling weeds.
Nathaniel: Tell us a little bit about the cider, then. So, for someone who hasn’t tried your cider before, how would you recommend that they should enjoy it?.
Graeme: Well, it probably reflects my learning curve as much as anything else, but we used what we read to be a fairly traditional process to begin with, in the sense that we did just a primary fermentation in stainless steel after we’d crushed all the fruit, just with a rotating knife arrangement that sort of shreds the apples, and then a water bag press. The juice was then loaded into stainless steel and we front loaded it with a fairly high dosing of a commercial wine yeast variety, and that went pretty well. But, of course, it goes all the way through to full fermentation with no residual sugar. So, our cider would be classified as a fairly robust and very dry cider with no residual sugar. The alcohol content ends up at seven percent.And in order to get some nice fizz in the bottle, once the primary fermentation has been completed, we then do any blending that might be required, another sort of fairly coarse filtration, and then mix in a little bit more apple juice and yeast, which will then allow a secondary fermentation in the bottle and natural carbonation from that perspective. So,the final product, seven percent alcohol, throws a sediment, of course, with the yeast, the live yeast that’s in it. If I get it all correct, the bottles don’t blow up on me!
Nathaniel: That must’ve happened a few times.
Graeme: Well, actually, you know, it didn’t. It was an ebullient fizz the first year, which we sort of didn’t market commercially. It still tasted great, but it was a bit – if it was jiggled around too much, it certainly was fizzy. The next year we‘ve managed to get that into a much more controllable and controlled fashion, but it’s got a nice spritz that will last through the life of the glass so I’m quite pleased with the balance that I’ve achieved there.
Nathaniel: And so, how would you recommend someone actually serves it? Is it something that you would match with food, for example? Is it something that you would have on its own? Do you add ice to it, for example? What would be your favourite way to do it justice?
Graeme: Well, I think it’s a fairly straightforward – I guess people would mainly drink it as a beer substitute. But a number of my friends enjoy it in a champagne glass, because it’s got a nice colour and a nice fizz in it. Because it’s so dry, you can actually substitute for a sparkling wine of the champagne style. It’s not as sophisticated and subtle as many of the professionally-made champagnes, of course, but it certainly has a nice flavour from that perspective. Because it has minimal sugar in it, the dry wine style people usually like it more than the sweet wine style people. So, I think there’s a definite selection bias, if you’d like, for people who like dry wines. They’ll prefer this cider more than people who like a really sweet drink.In terms of food matching, clearly then it’s a more robust flavour and it goes well with slightly more fatty meats. Traditionally, people would be looking at pork-based dishes or things like that, where the acidity and dryness of the cider would help cut through the fat of the pork. And, certainly, my wife uses it for cooking the pork, making a nice sauce, but I find it’s really quite good just as a pre-dinner drink, to use with chicken and other meats of that style. And, of course, it’s a great accompaniment to cheeses and that sort of thing, as well.
Nathaniel: Yeah, yum! Okay, sounds lovely. And so, my last question. What’s the future hold for you, then, and for Harts?
Graeme: Well, we’re obviously looking to continue to evolve the style and sophistication of the cider product. I would like to have some ciders coming on in this 2016 year, which appeal also to the people who like a medium, softer style of cider. We’re experimenting with some new varietals and fermentation styles. I’ve tried some natural yeasts this year,and I’ll be playing around with some oak maturation as well. And we will probably, if the style of the drink suits it, we’ll probably also package some up in larger 750 ml champagne-style bottles this year as well, so we’ll see how that goes.