She’ll be apples in the land of Plenty

ADAM D’Arcy is known to check the fruit with his own teeth, even before they get in the factory door. His job is a taste test, a crucial early stage in determining what’s going to emerge in 375mm cans of cider, many weeks from today. Between then and now comes a sequence of interactions between that fruit and the humans and machines tasked with creating special ciders, here in the Derwent Valley.

Adam actually cut his professional teeth not on apples but grapes, in the Langhorne Creek vineyards, out past the Adelaide Hills of South Australia. That education moved to Winemaking Tasmania about 10 years ago, and then into cider with Willie Smith’s in the Huon. Today, he and his wife, Grace, run this place, Plenty Cider, on a two-hectare property that’s steps from Salmon Ponds and shares the same entrance road.

The D’Arcy’s vision is simple: create a first-class product from local fruit by drawing from a winemaker’s palate that’s been fine-tuned by cider making. In practice, however, the process of making cider is much more complex. The fruit, largely Royal Gala apples from Hansen’s Orchards in Tasmania’s south, is first hand-sorted, so that any with serious bruising or damage are tossed. The superior fruit is washed before the production line.

This week, the raw material is about 24 cases of pears and 10 of apples. Each case, some half-tonne of fruit, will render about 325 litres of cider. The fruit is introduced via conveyor into a large press, a machine that during four stages reduces the incoming apples or pears to a pomace, or pulp, through a crushing process. The juice, meanwhile, arrives at the lowest section of the machine, ready to be piped into refrigerated storage tanks.

The factory now has 10 massive tanks, each handling a maturing liquid. (The pulp is dried and becomes cattle feed, a standard form of farm recycling and one much appreciated by the cattle at the brother-in-law’s place.) Over the following weeks, Adam draws from the storage tanks every few days.

He’s checking, testing, looking for a consistent taste in the cider, looking to balance its constituents. In broad terms, apple juices produce a variety of tastes, from the neutral tasting to the aromatic, astringent and acid-tart. Generally, sweet and tart apples are blended together to create a balanced cider.

To Adam and cider making assistant Corey Keleher – Adam’s right-hand in the production process – there are additional subtleties in the variance of sugar, pH balance and alcohol content. Then there’s free sulphur, a natural chemical which is present in the mix but not yet reacted. The actual process of making a quality cider can be as soon as two cattle at the brother-in-law’s place.) Over the following weeks, Adam draws from the storage tanks every few days.

Most of Adam’s ciders will not be ready for closer to six months, and what will emerge are blends of apple and cherry, apple and quince, each with their own character, a sweet/sour combination that delivers a particular flavour profile.

The cidery is just a year old now, and Adam and Grace are encouraging and educating consumer palates to the many possibilities of their harvest. Grace is making monthly forays to Salamanca Market, where she tends to a specialist cider stall. The cidery’s snazzy tasting bar is open from 11am each weekend. That’s the province of Ben Webster, who also arranges for a variety of food vans as a supplement to the ciders. And plans are afoot for a weekend festival, currently proposed around March 11, 2023, to showcase the output of Plenty Cider, along with wood-fired pizza, cheeses and of course, music.

In the meantime, the apples are ready and Adam has some taste-testing to do.