A small family business in Tasmania's picturesque Huon Valley is helping put organic cider on the map.
Launched less than two years ago by a fourth-generation apple farming family, Willie Smith's Organic Cider is now widely distributed on the mainland.Andrew Smith and his business partner Sam Reid have drawn inspiration from Andrew's pioneering forebears to create Australia’s first certified organic apple cidery and recently opened an apple museum and tasting facility.
“The great thing is that we can guarantee that everything in our ciders is 100 per cent natural,” says Andrew Smith. “We see our business as a tribute to the pioneers who first transformed Tasmania into the `Apple Isle’ with honesty and hard work.
The Smith family is synonymous with southern Tasmania – and apples. Andrew Smith’s great grandfather William first planted apple trees at his Grove property, just outside the town of Huonville, in 1888 and the orchard has operated continuously since.
While many orchards across the state have been pulled out as demand for Tasmanian apples has declined, the Smiths have persevered through tough times to prosper as the country’s biggest organic apple orchard (115 acres) and the sole organic apple supplier to Woolworths nationally.
A $250,000 cidery has been built on the family farm to brew Willie Smith’s Organic Cider - a premium product that aims to provide consumers with an alternative to highly-processed, artificially-sweetened ciders that are often made with Chinese apple concentrate.Willie Smith’s direction is inspired by the cider making process of Northern France and is matured in oak vats to deliver a distinctive farmhouse style (or in the case of some special-release ciders, in barrels that have been used for whisky maturation). All products are made without the use of synthetic chemicals, fertilisers or genetically modified organisms and with a focus on sustainable practices.
Andrew’s business partner in Willie Smith’s, former Diageo marketing manager Reid, is also originally from Tasmania and firmly believes the cider will be on par with the best from France.
“I'd like to think Tasmania and Australia can be recognised as world class producers of cider and perhaps even do what the wine industry did and export our product back to where it originated,” he said.
“We feel that with our cider and other Tasmanian ciders that have recently come on to the market, that Tasmania can regain the 'Apple Isle' moniker and return the apple industry to long-term and sustainable growth.’’
Reid and cider maker Rowl Muir-Wilson last year spent two weeks travelling to the world’s most famous cider regions - Normandy in France, Spain’s Basque region and Somerset in England, to explore the history of the cider-making craft.
“Linking with world class producers can only benefit us locally as we bring some of the knowledge, skills and experience back to Tasmania,’’ Reid said.
“Our business is in its infancy whereas most of these producers have been making cider for at least 200 years and many of them have links going back 400 or so years. We are hoping to learn from that experience and help move the Australian cider industry forward in the same way the wine industry learnt French techniques in the 1970s.”
The opening of the Apple Shed Museum and tasting facility just before Christmas was the latest step in the Willie Smith's story.
``We had so many people interested in what we are doing and just dropping into the packing shed, where we make the cider which has been fantastic,’’ Andrew Smith said. “Unfortunately it was a working operation which was not designed to handle visitors at any scale. We decided the Apple Shed would provide a much better experience.”
The development includes detailed history exhibitions about the apple industry – with artifacts dating back to the mid 1800s, including portraits of Willie Smith’s family – as well as cider displays, a tasting bar and a providore-style shop-front. The next stage of the project includes a copper still for the production of organic apple brandy.
The Apple Shed - 1942-built apple packing shed which previously housed a run-down museum, has now been totally restored and it and the tasting facility are key components of a soon-to-be-launched Tasmanian apple trail.
The facility, developed at a cost of more than $450,000, including a State Government grant of $150,000, has been inspired by European cider houses and features regional and seasonal produce platters developed by local foodie Michelle Crawford.
“We're conscious that Tasmania competes internationally for the tourist dollar and so we felt we had to do something world class to draw people down here.” Reid said.
Andrew Smith added: “The Apple Shed is a place that both acknowledges the apple industry's significant and at times challenging history and celebrates its vibrant future through the development of the cider industry.”Willie Smith’s Organic Cider is available on-tap in bars and pubs and also available for purchase at premium locations in Australia.
# A version of this article originally appeared in Nourish magazine