Sweet smell of success
In the latest of her series through 2016, Kate Haskell celebrates the people that make Devon work. This month: cider maker Jeremy Woods
Photographs: Matt Austin
It is clear within minutes of meeting Jeremy Woods that here is a man that can turn his hand to anything and when he does, he does it well. Originally from Bristol but a Devon boy now for nearly 24 years, Jeremy has done a variety of jobs from mechanic to builder to chef but these days there is just one true love and it is a love of many here in Devon and that’s cider! It was a rather cider-fuelled pub conversation, some six years ago, that led Jeremy down a road that he never thought he would enjoy so much. Along with running his village shop, Woods, in Collaton Raleigh, near Sidmouth, he decided that he would like to make proper cider.
There are many cider makers in Devon, around 20 or so, some big and some small, but it’s this small-time producer that the big boys have to watch out for. In both 2015 and 2016 Woodsys ciders have won first place at the Devon County Show, something that may have upset the apple cart with the more established makers.
Jeremy smiles as he recalls: “I have to say I was emotional when I won the first year as I never expected it as the new boy on the block. I am up against some major producers so I never thought I would win again this year; maybe fourth if I was lucky and indeed I was fourth for my medium cider and then first for my dry dry cider - an authentic dry cider.”
The road to award-winning perfection has not always been easy though. Originally Jeremy set out to make perry but he quickly realised that you need a lot of pears to make anything decent: “I went out to find some pears, not realising how hard this was going to be in August.
“I got offered some pears if I cleared the trees so I spent all day clearing pear trees, which was not good fun at all.
“I took the pears to a local apple farm where they pressed them for me; later I got a phone call from the farm ‘where do you want us to put your 100 litres of pear juice?’ 100 litres! I spent all day picking those damn pears for that!”
In both 2015 and 2016 Woodsys ciders have won first place at the Devon County Show
So he switched the hunt to supplier of apples, spent a small fortune on equipment and set about making cider. It was trial and error for some time as Jeremy tells me: “It was at least three years before I made anything drinkable but I loved it. I would keep an eye on it over the winter months, letting it slow ferment, bubbling away and tasting it each month.
“I’ve got quite a passion for it for getting right. I don’t want to be a massive producer, I am happy making just 7,000 litres a year as I’m fussy and I like it the way I want it. My cider doesn’t have a tart backwash like some do; the girls don’t like it!”
He may call it fussy but I think it is more attention to detail as he plays with the mix of apples to get the perfect blend and filters the cider until it loses that cloudy look and is a clear as bell. This may make for a slow and steady production but Woodsy’s Cider isn’t just sold to anyone as Jeremy is clear to point out: “We don’t sell to pubs unless perhaps they are doing a cider festival and I’m particular who sells my cider; it has to be presented right.”
Despite being a small business things are always changing and developing with Jeremy’s latest edition, a double decker bus, taking centre stage. It appears at the Devon County Show and other food festivals with the downstairs converted into a bar and sleeping accommodation upstairs. There is another idea that was created after a chat with a mate but was made possible by Jeremy’s vision and passion. At the heart of this business is family. Jeremy and his wife Alison took over the then derelict building that was to become Woods Village Shop, with the help of both sets of parents. Sadly a series of life changing events affected the family profoundly but Jeremy says fondly: “If it wasn’t for all their support we wouldn’t be where we are today”; and that seems to be now a very happy place in the heart of Devon.
It takes six months to make Woodsys cider.
A ton-and-a-half of apples will make a 1,000 litres of cider.
At the time the Romans arrived in England, they were reported to have found the villagers drinking a gorgeous drink made from apples. The Roman leader Julius Caesar welcomed and encouraged the pursuit of this lovely new drink.
After the Norman Conquest of 1066, drinking cider became the norm in England.
Labourers on farms around England received a cider allowance as part of their pay, and the quantity increased during haymaking season.
Cider making in England peaked around about the early part of the 17th century, when most farms had their own orchard and cider making equipment. However it went into decline because of agricultural changes before making a huge comeback during the 20th century, due to demand from the mass market.