With St David’s Day approaching, minds turn to all things Welsh. It is pleasing to know that, alongside Welsh cakes and daffodils, cider-making and drinking has a long tradition in Wales and, at Vale Cider, we are proud that our farm-made award-winning contemporary craft Welsh ciders continue this heritage.
Although alcoholic drinks have been made from apples in Britain since at least Roman times, cider-making as we know it today came over the channel with the Normans at around the 12th Century. It had swept across the border from Herefordshire into Wales by about the 14th Century. The first reference to cider in the Welsh language dates from the second half of the 14th century and references to cider appear in Welsh poetry from that time onwards. Cider became well established in the farming communities of the south-eastern part of Wales and in the region of mid-Wales. The soils and climate of south-east Wales are particularly favourable for apple growth and at one time almost every large farm had its own orchard and cider mill. Welsh varieties of apples and pears are often distinct from those grown in England, giving cider from Wales a flavour noticeably different to ciders from nearby regions.
Cider was the staple drink of farmworkers in the Welsh border counties. Most farm servants insisted on it as a right, until well into the 1900s. The bottom line was ‘No cider, no work’.
In common with the cider-making areas of England, cider in Wales went into decline with the mechanisation of agriculture just after the end of World War II. With this, small-scale production of cider on farms as a beverage for labourers died out. However, unlike in England, no commercial Welsh cider-makers were left to continue the tradition. But the orchards remained, and in the 1980s the first of a new wave of craft cider-makers started to use the fruit from the old trees, and many new orchards have been planted to revive the tradition of cider-making in Wales – like our Vale Cider orchards in the the heart of the Vale of Glamorgan.
More information can be found in the article by Gareth Beech, a senior curator Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum of Wales: Beech, Gareth. An Introduction to Cider Making in Wales. Melin 23 (2007): 50-66 and the book by John Williams-Davies, previously Director of Collections and Research, Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales: Cider making in Wales by John Williams-Davies, National Museum of Wales, 1984 and article by the same author: The travelling cidermaker by John Williams-Davies, in Folk Life, Volume 29, 1990-1991.
The importance of cider making in Wales is well-represented at Amgueddfa Cymru – the National Museum of Wales which holds many interesting and evocative photographs and exhibits within its collection, including some on permanent display. The museum hosts a demonstration of juicing and cider-making at the St Fagans Food and Drink Festival in September each year where visitors can learn about the processes – traditional and contemporary – involved in turning apples into juice and cider.
At Vale Cider we are proud to be Welsh and to bring excellent award-winning Welsh Cider to a modern audience. Our range of traditional and fruit ciders, apple juice, cider vinegar and cider gift sets can be browsed in our online store.