Sprywood is a crossroad north of Black Torrington that is more or less at the centre of our apple orchards at Wooda Farm — hence our cider’s name. It’s also where the apple pickers, all local people, congregate on a picking morning.
Our orchards were planted up between 1993 and 1997 after a visit from the late Ray Williams (from the Cider Research Centre at Long Ashton) who advised on the mix of apples which in his opinion would produce a well balanced cider on our land. And of course the apples he advised were largely West Country varieties. Thornhayes nurseries at Cullompton was just then starting up and we were probably among their first customers.
In the last twenty years our summers have become warmer and wetter and our winters milder. But compared with the ‘up country’ varieties, it is noticeable how the local trees can hold their own much better in our heavy soil and damp conditions. The Somerset apple Stoke Red, which is one of our mainstays, is nicknamed ‘Neverblight’ and so far, fingers crossed, it never has.
Devon varieties we planted were Sweet Alford, Payhembury, Paignton Marigold, Halstow Natural (Tedburn St Mary), Northwood/ Woodbine (Crediton area), Billy Down Pippin (Bewdley Down nr Membury), Tom Putt (Gittisham), Sweet Cleave (Barnstaple). From Somerset we chose Stoke Red, Kingston Black, Porters Perfection, and Yarlington Mill.
Following a cider-making course at Pershore College, we started to experiment with various types of cider. Struck by the similarity of the taste of dry cider to several wine writers’ descriptions of the base wine of Champagne, we decided to concentrate on making a sparkling cider. We use the labour intensive ‘methode champenoise‘, producing lots of natural fizz and complexity of flavour by maturing the cider on the yeast from the second in-bottle fermentation over a number of years before disgorging.
We were both delighted when in 2016 our daughter chose to get married here in the apple orchards. This gave us the impetus to label our vintage Sprywood Cross for the occasion, where it was well received.
In 2017 year we sent Sprywood Cross up to the British Cider Championships at the Bath and West Show, and were surprised and gratified to be awarded a Gold Medal. Truly a cider to celebrate!
Russell & Jo Homan