Guernsey has a centuries old connection with apples and cider; the Duke of Richmond map produced by William Gardner in 1787 shows half of the island covered in cider apple trees, and cider was an important bartering tool for local farmers. At a time when agriculture was incredibly labour intensive and workers such as threshers moved from farm to farm during harvest time, farmers often paid or part-paid in cider and the farms with the best cider were able to take their pick of the best workers. Guernsey continued to grow apples and produce highly regarded cider, exporting much of it the England until the 1960s when the industry declined.
In 1998 James Meller set out to re-establish Guernsey’s cider making industry, and planted an orchard of 3000 apple trees in the fields surrounding his family farm in the Fauxquets Valley. There are now over 5000 trees planted in every available space across the 15 acre farm, pollinated by their own bees which are housed in ten hives spread across two apiaries on either side of the farm. The farm is organic, using organic fertilizer and no pesticides and the Mellor’s are rightly proud of their sustainable approach to cider making.
Annually the Mellers produce around 160 tons of organic apples which makes 200,000 litres of apple juice for cider making, and this is supplemented by apples contributed by the general public as part of their annual apple swap. Every September and October the cider barn at Les Fauxquets De Haut Farm is open from 10am until midday on six consecutive Saturdays for locals to come along and exchange their own apples (provided they haven’t been sprayed) for cider, apple juice or chutney – and there is often a queue of cars!
“The Apple Swap is a really lovely community event, and adds around 10 to 15 tons of apples to our production. Most of the apples that people drop off are Bramleys, which is what we grow here because of their acidity. The rest are dessert apples which we don’t grow a lot of, and we use those to make apple juice. Before we started the Apple Swap most of that fruit would have ended up in the bin or on compost heaps, particularly during very productive years.”
2017 is looking to be one such year, with fine weather through the late spring. When we met with James in May there was more blossom on the trees than in any other year, and more blossom means more apples. The apples are collected using small pedestrian machines that are pushed along, sweeping the fallen apples into rows that can then be collected by another machine. The team fill an 800kg box every twenty minutes (they collect around 200 boxes during each harvest) and the apples are then sorted by hand. Most of those apples are Bramleys, as a lot of the old varieties don’t exist any more. Meller is experimenting with other varieties, such as apples trees from Madeira, as varieties from the Southern Hemisphere seem to do well on Guernsey because of the island’s temperate climate, abundant sunshine and sea breezes.
Rocquette produce a range of ciders, from their 4.5%ABV draft cider which is available in bars and pubs across Guernsey, to their bottled Traditional Cider (6%ABV) and XC Exceptional Cider (4.5%ABV) and a number of different 3-litre bag-in-box still ciders that are sold through supermarkets or direct from the farm.
Farm tours and orchard walks for groups of 16-30 people are available between April and the end of September, at a price of £16 per person including cider tasting and local Guernsey cheeses served with Rocquette chutneys. The tours last for an hour and a half, with a forty-minute orchard walk followed by a tasting session.
You can enjoy Rocquettes Cider, either draft or bottled, from the bar here at the Bella Luce.