This blog comes just after we have wrapped up this years apple harvest and I thought I'd take a minute to tell you all about it. We obviously set out to restore Kenton Park Estate to a fully functioning commercial vineyard but there is only so much you can do, until the vines have actually been planted. We had various viticulture consultants come in and assess the land to establish its suitability to growing vines, the results that came back were excellent which was hardly surprising considering that vines had previously grown on these soils. For anyone interested the soil is a sandy soil which is ideal for growing vines as it drains very well. In order for vines to grow well and produce good quality fruit they need to be made to work for their nutrients so to speak, as not to dilute the sugars in the grape itself.
Before we went any further we needed to remove all of the old vine roots from the soil, so that when it comes to planting there will be minimal chance of any disease that may have been carried in the old vines from transferring to the new ones. This was no small task by any means and so I enlisted the help of some of my friends (soon to not be friends for making them do this task...). I don't think they quite knew what they were getting into, three long days of yanking up some pretty stiff roots can get very tedious and its safe to say they probably hated me for making them do it, but it made me laugh nonetheless. By the end of the third day, the 4 of us had pulled up something close to 20,000 old vine roots, a pretty impressive feat. The fields could now be ploughed and harrowed.
After this we were advised to plant a cover crop to really enrich the nutrients already present in the soil so we planted a mixture of mustard seed, rye and rapeseed and let it grow before mulching it back into the ground a few months later. A further crop is now needed to be planted over the winter to keep the nutrients in the soil, rather than have them drain away due to the excessive amounts of rain that can be expected over the winter in the UK.
This is going to be done over the next coming weeks, so it seemed that all that we could do was sit and wait... We then decided to design our labels ready to slap on our very first bottle...before realising oops we won't actually be able to make and bottle our own wine for a few years to come... Massive BUMMER. Not too worry however, as we arranged an agreement with a few already established vineyards to produce some wine for us that we could put our label on and sell in the years leading up to being able to producing our own wine, most notably a vineyard in Bulgaria... whom I'm not at liberty to tell you about just yet... you'll have to wait and see. Now we came upon our next problem, where do we sell our product?
We had a building that was attached to what was the old winery, whilst it looked a little worse for wear, the potential was obvious as it had panoramic view over what would be the vineyard. And so the idea of the Motley Cru Cafe and Wine Bar was born, a name we figured was quite fitting as we were a bunch of people that were embarking on a project that we had next to no idea about... only we could see the funny side in this. The 'Cru' part is a play on the term 'Premier Cru' often seen on bottles of Champagne.
After a few months of hard work from my Mum... (obviously I had no input in interior decorating as that would have been somewhat of a disaster and frankly It wasn't something that interested me hugely as I imagine it doesn't for most guys reading this.) The Motley Cru is now really starting to take shape.
So, Its taken me almost 4 paragraphs to get to the actual subject in the title, but I've set the scene. We are now on course and ready to plant, minus a few pest problems here and there... bloody rabbits! We have bottles of wine ready to sell and a place to promote them once the Motley Cru is finished and ready to open. So now what do we do? Honestly there wasn't a lot left we could do.
One day I was sat at home, feeling particularly bored as I'd sustained a broken hand the weekend before whilst playing rugby for my club, the Taunton Titans. It was so frustrating that what I deemed to be such an insignificant injury (a broken metacarpal) could put me out of action for 6 weeks, as for those of you who know me, I love my rugby and so this came as a real blow. That day I decided to go for a walk into what was the previous orchard only to discover that it was very much still a functioning orchard with hundreds of juicy looking apples ready to be picked. I suddenly hit upon the idea of using these apples to make a Cider and so it seemed my next few weeks weren't going to be as bleak as I had previously thought. In fact it turned out to be one of my most physically strenuous weeks. For those of you who haven't picked apples before... let me tell you, it is HARD! The endless back pain day after day does make you question why the hell you would do something like this and don't even get me started on the mind numbingly dull task of cleaning all the apples ready to be pressed. It was an experience nonetheless, made even more so with only one hand able to pick the apples and without any specialised equipment to reach the apples way up high, this often involved me attempting to flop ungracefully up the tree like you'd imagine a pig would climb a tree... if of course you've ever imagined a pig climbing a tree which unless you're very odd, you haven't...
Anyway with the occasional help of my brother Josh and my sister Sienna we managed to strip the orchard and fill about 12 large coffee sacks with apples. We hired a contractor to come and bring his apple mill and press on site to first crush the apples into a pulp before being placed layer upon layer into the apple press, where we watched all of the juices being transferred into containers... Actually quite unsatisfying when you see the amount of juice all of your hard-work picking the apples actually ends up producing. Someone in the family, not mentioning any names, thought it would be a good idea to take 25 litres of the juice and have it as fresh apple juice for the week. The reality however, is that the freshly squeezed untreated apple juice lasts no more than a few days before it will start to ferment and be undrinkable. So for 3 says our fridge was jam packed with every conceivable bottle we had, full of apple juice, every meal it was, what do we have to drink? Oh yeah... apple juice again. Now whilst after three days I'd had more than enough of the stuff, the juice was delicious! Honestly the best I'd ever had, but then perhaps I was a little biased. The taste filled me with confidence that we were going to produce a banging cider! This pre-mature, apparently foolish confidence was shut down only a few days later by another orchard owner who happily told us our apples weren't actually traditional cider apples so who knows what It'll turn out like - thanks for telling us earlier you condescending, traditional 'well I don't do it that way, so it doesn't work any other way' farmer - you know the type I'm on about. Anyway there isn't anything we can do about it now, our juice is fermenting and in a few months time we shall know if all of our effort was worth it.
Rest assured though, whatever happens over the next few months with this first batch, it will not be the last to come out of Kenton Park Estate as we have put in an order for several more "Cider" cough, apple trees that will be planted soon. We have also made our label and have started working on branding ideas for our so called 'HARDCORE' cider. The name originated from in my opinion, bloody hard work and a play on 'apple core' but its up for interpretation, that's the beauty of it, it could represent what is commonly referred to as a 'Hard' cider amongst other things. Lets be honest though, we only really used it because it sounded cool...
So lets hope it doesn't turn out to be a complete disaster, fingers crossed!
You can see all of our label designs in the gallery and also be sure to check out our Instagram page, there is a link in this website, but for those of you who suck at navigating a website.... its kenton_park_estate.
Cheers, until next time!