It’s a little known fact that just over 100 years ago, the banks and inlets of the River Fowey were laden with apple trees – a local site so beautiful that scores of Victorian day-trippers would take boat rides up the valley to see the apple blossom in spring.
Now, an artisan producer from the picturesque port made internationally famous by the likes of Daphne Du Maurier and Kenneth Grahame, is rekindling that romanticism from a very different perspective, and tapping into a few historical revelations as he goes.
Cidermaker, Barrie Gibson, had been making cider for friends and family for more than 15 years, eventually making the leap to commercial scale and releasing Fowey Valley’s first 2012 vintage in the December of 2014. Fowey Valley’s use of the Méthode Traditionelle – a labour-intensive but sworn-by method made iconic by the producers of Champagne in France – makes the product completely unique to the Fowey area, producing a clear, brut-like sparkling cider that is swaying even the most scrumpy-wary of drinkers.
As a member of Fowey’s local history group, Barrie investigated the practice of cidermaking in Cornwall and beyond before the launch of Fowey Valley. In his research, he discovered that the method for making the sturdier glass bottles that are crucial to the success of sparkling wines and ciders was actually patented by a one-time Lostwithiel MP – Admiral Sir Robert Mansell – in 1623, more than 30 years before Dom Pérignon was born.
“All of the apples are from the orchard here in Golant, and within a 20-mile radius of the site, from small scale orchards in the Fowey area,” explains Barrie. “Unlike many cidermakers who use crab apple juice for its tannins and slightly bitter edge, we like to emphasise the flavours of the sweet dessert apples that grow in the area, giving a dry, crisp product that’s going down very well with everyone who tries it.”
Barrie’s full range features batches of artisan Castledore Cider, Foy Gin, Vodka, Brandy, Cider Vinegar, Eau de Vie, Pommeau and Chutney, all of which are made from Fowey Valley apples and Cider. The products have been snapped up by chefs across the county hunting for new additions to their locally-sourced larders.
Fowey Valley’s famous Foy Gin has captured the hearts of gin connoisseurs up and down the country. After creating their own neutral spirit (a spirit distilled to at least 96%) – a very rare thing to do – Barrie then re-distils with his chosen recipe of six botanicals to create this juniper led, citrusy gin. This hand-crafted gin is one of only a few products where the liquid is created entirely in the county. This is truly a Cornish gin.
The long creeks up and down the Fowey riverbanks also made good hiding places for smugglers. In the eighteenth century there was a regular trade in brandy and other contraband so it made sense to Barrie to follow in their footsteps, releasing his one and two year aged brandy in 2018. Eagerly awaited, these brandies are pot distilled twice from Barrie’s Vintage Cider. They are then laid down in small, medium toasted, American Oak Barrels for more than 12 months. Golden-amber in colour, on the palate are nuts, molasses and raisins with a hint of liquorice and pepper.
The public aren’t the only ones enjoying the light, delicate flavours and sparkle of Fowey Valley’s products. At the 2015 Royal Bath and West show, Barrie was the proud recipient of a Silver Award in the bottle-fermented cider category, which as a peer judged event, made the taste of success all the sweeter. He is a regular face at the Taste of the West awards, with Fowey Valley’s Cider Vinegar and Castledore Cider each winning a gold award in 2017 and his Vodka and Cider Brandy winning three Gold awards in 2019.
Fowey Valley also runs courses in small-batch cider making and free tours of the cidery and distillery.