Recently I had the opportunity to have a tour around Darkes Orchard. Darkes Orchard is in the little town of Darkes Forest about an hour drive south of Sydney. I originally had planned to travel down there to learn about the Howler Cider but ended up learning so much more about the realities of running a commercial orchard.
It’s the very being of spring, the sun is out and the sky is blue but as I pulled up, a cool change started to close in. I started my tour in the farm shop with apples, honey and of course The Howler Cider but I’ll get to that later.
Jo, the extremely passionate cider producer on the orchard showed me to the buggy. We quickly jumped in before the elder statesman of the farm who claims the buggy, saw us. This is a family farm. The first generation settled in 1935. Soon it started to become a fruit farm and over the years more apple trees have been planted out.
We hit a plantation of pink ladies mid bloom. The bees were meant to be out pollinating. However because of the cold front or a pay dispute, only a few were out working. These trees had only been planted about 7 years ago. The trend in this orchard is to modernise. That means the trees are planted closer together with smaller rootstock. The smaller rootstock means that the trees are dwarfed to be more manageable and planted closer together. Each tree should yield about 90kg of apples, so by planting them closer together, the yield for a given area is maximised. You will notice the permanent overhead netting. Officially it’s designed to stop hail stones but this orchard can be completely enclosed to stop other uniquely Aussie problems like parrots, fruit bats and wallabies.
As cider grows as an income stream for Darkes, the need for cider apples also grows. This is Jo’s experimental paddock. There is very little information about which cider apple varieties will thrive in Australia let alone this Illawarra escarpment. So Jo has planted a selection of English and French apples, just to see what will grow. As older apple trees are retired and removed the best performers could be used as replacements.
It looks like there is more life bamboo stakes in the ground than the young seedlings but give it 4 years and there will be fruit on these trees. You’ve got to wonder how these names came about. Stoke Red, Dr Hogg and Hoary Morning is not a spelling mistake.
In this experimental orchard some of the older roots have been grafted over to different varieties. Because the older roots are well established they can pump so much energy into the new branches that they can be established very quickly. The other interesting thing in the test plot is the green tent with all the hanging wires out of it. That system attracts pests like moths and then a camera snaps them for identification in Europe.
Up front, there is a nice toasty yeast element, which soon fades after the bottle is opened, giving way to a few florals. Nothing too sweet or overblown in the nose.
The taste of the apples I taste straight from the farm store, ring through in Darkes Cider Howler. Sweet and floral pink ladies stand out as the key feature of the Howler. A bright acid structure of those Granny Smiths. Red apple skin leaning towards cherry, build up the base. Add some chunky bubbles that mask some underlying sweetness and the Howler becomes a decent little drink.
Light, fresh and easy to drink.
Final Thoughts on the Howler Cider
The Howler Cider was named after one of the farm’s dogs. That dog howled to alert everyone to the burglars late one night. The cider is howling about something else. It shouts out about the apple from the farm, this cider is so true to the apples that it was born from. I’m not going as far as to say it has terroir, but it a damn good advertisement for their apples.
Light, fresh and easy to drink cider. Much better suited summer barbecue than stopping late night robbers.
|Country of Origin||Australia|
|Region||Illawarra, New South Wales|