A few years ago, I got twitter message from this guy in Luxembourg “Hey do you want to try our Ramborn Cider? We had a call to arrange the shipment, “You’re in Austria, right? I’ll post you a few samples”. At which point I had to point out it was Australia, not Austria. Anyway after some back and forth I got the samples. One of those ciders went on to be named the best of the rest of the world in 2016. After that, they said if you are ever in the area come and visit. So, while I was in Scotland this year, I decided why not jump on a flight over to see the lads at Ramborn Cider
I got into Luxembourg City late on a Monday night, there’s is a pub down the road. The crowd is a mix of older gents and the younger suited and booted crowd who work in the city’s famed financial sector. There are a few girls in the corner celebrating a birthday. They seem to be all be drinking the local beers or the local white wines. I ask the barman for a Cider; he whips a bottle into a Ramborn glass. Nice, that’s what I’m here to drink, this is off to a good start. The Barman hands me a menu. I can read a French menu enough not to go hungry, I can recognise German, but I don’t know what this is. Turns out Luxembourgish is the local dialect. I point at something on the menu that I think is a pizza with salmon and this arrived. Tasty.
I strike up a conversation with a couple of bankers, we started to talk about cider, they hadn’t tried any real ciders and had been turned off the category because of overly sweet “rekopperberg” Swedish ciders. It seems somethings are truly universal.
The next morning, I meet Adie, the communications manager at Ramborn Cider, in “town”. To the sounds of a high revving Mini Copper and avante grand jazz we head south-west to Schengen (yes that’s where the EU visa-free area treaty was created). After rolling through vineyards we turn up the hill onto a road flanked by this year’s wheat crop. Shadowing the road, a row of 180 to 200-year-old pear trees. I couldn’t see the end of the row. Stretching out nearly 2 kilometres of old-growth pear trees. Ramborn Cider claim this is the longest alley of old-growth pear trees in the world. Let me know if you know of a longer stretch of pears.
A little further up the road, we got to the little village of Born, the hometown of Ramborn Cider. We pull up at “The Farmhouse”, The Ramborn HQ. This newly renovated building would have once been a traditional farmhouse but now it serves as a tasting room and cellar door.
Being a tasting room, it would be rude not to do some tasting: From farmhouse dry’s to single variety Erbachhofer apple cider to Perrys, to ciders aged in bourbon barrel-aged ciders. The range has grown in-depth and breadth. I will be going in-depth on a few of them over the next few weeks.
That evening I met Carlo, the founder of Ramborn Cider. He has lived his whole life in Born. It quickly became clear to me that Ramborn is his way of giving back to the local community.
Carlo and I ducked over the border to Trier in Germany. There has been a settlement here for years, in fact, the Romans had the town as their northern capital and build The Porto Nigra Gates in 170AD. Under the shadows of the sandstone gates and up the road from the Carl Marx statue, Carlo orders us porcelain mugs of the local cider. It’s been made the same way for as long as anyone can remember. The mugs are also made in town.
You probably won’t find this anywhere else in Germany, but it could be one of the oldest surviving cider cultures maybe even the first region to ferment apple juice. As for the taste, well it was a little bit like a sweeter version of Willie Smiths Bone Dry, it seems like it is completely unaged, almost like as soon as there was booze in the barrel it was ready to drink.
After a quick walk around town we jump back into the car and onto the autobahn then very quickly we are back into the centre of the country’s capital, also called Luxembourg. The city is built around a very steep valley which was used as a natural defence in medieval times. Today the valley is full of pretty little houses and pubs. Along the river are a series of public gardens divided up by ancient castles. The gardens are bursting with apple trees. Carlo explained to me that Ramborn has worked closely with the local authorities. The deal is Ramborn look after the trees in return for the apples. The trees were surrounded with long plains of grass and a few wildflowers.
The orchard in the middle of the city was being holistically managed. The idea is to provide a habitat for insects. The Good insects will chomp on the bad insects wanting to chomp on the apples. It’s about working with nature not against it. Carlo was quite proud that people can see the real apples growing naturally, then within a with 50-meter walk you can sit down to a pint of cider made from those trees all the while being in the heart of the nations capital city. We settled into a night of local delicacies and chat about European politics and environmental causes in the area. He stressed working with the local farmers was key to their operations, so it was in Ramborn Ciders best interest keep the farmers happy and teach them the best practices about apple management. Not to mention Ramborn Cider is very open about paying good money for the apples.
This was highlighted the next morning when Adie and I walk into Ramborn Cider HQ where Carlo is having a meeting with several government officials strategizing a plan to work with the local farmers to increase the wild bee population. It’s clear from the meeting that this is a genuine effort to do good for the local community.
Ramborn Cider Orchard Tour
Adie and I jump back into the Mini to take a look at a few of these “meadow orchards”. These orchards have traditionally served 2 purposes. Firstly, juice for fermenting into what the locals call “second wine” as the region also makes some nice white wines. Once the wine harvest and pressing were complete, it was the turn of the apples to be pressed. The second reason is to provide a bit of shade for livestock.
One of the major problems facing the orchards in the area is mistletoe. Many of the trees have had some pretty extensive surgery to remove the mistletoe. When reviving the apples, Rambon Cider are looking for different types of apples. The Ramborn team take cuttings and graft them into a new orchard. As they plant 2 of each tree, it’s fittingly known as the Noah’s Ark Orchard. Without this genetic reserve, these varieties of trees might be lost forever with changes in land use and mistletoe infestations. If the apples are lost, the flavours are lost.
Staying true to the working with nature philosophy is their effort to help local birds of prey population. Ramborn Cider’s partner farmers are trying to use less and less chemicals. This is bringing back the insects, which in turn is helping bring back smaller animals which provide food for the hawks, kestrels, and kites. These large birds love nothing more than landing in a young apple tree and using it as a bit of a perch. so instead of letting them snap the baby trees, they have provided nesting poles in the orchards. It was pretty common to spot a hawk standing like a sentinel looking out for a rabbit for breakfast.
If Carlo’s mission is to give back to the community, I think Ramborn Cider is doing it. I’m in no doubt that if Ramborn wasn’t making Cider many of these orchards would be been turned over to wheat fields. Having no trees means a loss of wildlife. Keeping the trees means it goes to making some pretty good cider. Keep an eye out for some reviews coming out over the next few weeks.
Thanks to Adie and Carlo for the Tour. Disclaimer Ramborn Cider provided samples and meals but did not have influence on the story.