Good Energy is collaborating with award-winning environmental photographer Toby Smith to produce a series of photo-essays visualising climate change in the UK. Toby will be focussing on the changes and challenges of land-use but also cultural and technology innovations in sustainability around the South West of England. 

Britain’s independent cider and wine producers have recently been enjoying a renaissance and surge in popularity. Both have deep roots in the stony ground of the South West, which has a rich history and culture of food production. These companies offer hopeful stories of resilience, adaptation and even some measured benefits that are arising as a result of climate change. 

Little Pomona Orchard and Cidery

Hidden away in Herefordshire, Little Pomona Orchard and Cidery epitomises a new wave of taste and design-led producers. They are breaking away from the notion that cider is a seasonal and mass-produced beverage.

Susanna Forbes takes a break from washing and pressing the last of the season’s apple harvest: beautiful golden Egremont Russets, a traditional, long-keeping winter variety. The rich, golden and syrupy juice will ferment slowly in the cool winter temperatures using the wild yeasts found in the fruit’s skin. 

“The interesting thing about apples, is that they are an incredibly diverse, and adaptable fruit with a rich history in our culture. Climate change might affect harvest time and subtle annual flavours but the choice around what is planted or bought into our press is one of taste, culture, heritage and preference.” 

Craft cider makers pride themselves on a strong connection to nature, land seasonality and sustainable practice, whilst investing heavily in both a sense of community and heritage. Orchards can be a stable, practical, financial and accessible use of land within agriculture; valued by visitors for a sense of wellbeing and an opportunity to educate everyone where our food comes from.

Gabe Cook, aka The Ciderologist, an expert in all things cider, agrees that traditional orchards have incredible biodiversity, community, amenity and sustainability value. Producing more cider involves planting more trees, which is a good thing because of the potential for carbon sequestration.

Dubbed the ‘Magner’s Effect’, cider enjoyed a boom in popularity in 2006-2007. Several major drinks’ brands rushed to plant thousands of acres of straight planted ‘standard’ orchards, which took several years to become productive. Ironically, the mass popularity waned just as the trees matured, leaving a surplus of quality apples available.

Sandridge Barton Wines

I visit Sandridge Barton Wines as they busily migrate 40 years of experience, equipment and barrels from the Sharpham Estate to their new premises. Under new ownership, they are expanding and renovating a derelict dairy farm into a restaurant and tasting room in a valley close to the River Dart. Their grapes come from south-facing slopes that capture the sun’s warmth, rich with stone for drainage that also imparts on the flavour, or terroir, that their award-winning wines are famed for. 

The recent boom in English Wine sales is fuelled by a surge in recognition and some savvy marketing around both sparkling wine and pinot noir. Recently, English grapes have benefitted from average annual temperature increases due to climate change.

Duncan Schwab, head winemaker has been in charge since 1992.

“Our wines are particularly well known throughout the South West and the move to our new home gives us the opportunity to expand our production, putting English wine firmly on the New World Wine map. Along with the longer ripening season, we have very iron-rich soil in the Devon region, with quite a bit of volcanic soil which imparts amazing flavours.” 

Selecting a variety of grapes that will perform well in Britain’s temperate climate is essential. The South West is the most northerly tip of the wine-producing map. Vigorous North American root stock helps the popular clones of Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris and Chardonnay but it is the lesser-known Bacchus and Madeleine grapes that are the consistent stars underpinning wine volume.

Alex Davidson, the vineyard manager, has 20 years of experience supervising the production, harvesting and winter pruning of the vines by hand, supporting branches with wire. His team makes changes to the local geography to maximise not just the yield, but critically the sugar and phenolic ripeness of grapes that imparts flavour.

“Vines need to be planted with both the head and heart in order to last 20-30 years. Making organic wine in the UK is incredibly tough. With the humidity and moisture, we’re up against weeds, fungus and mildew as the biggest enemies. We keep the grass short to help airflow and remove frost pockets. It is getting warmer here but it’s getting wetter too. We can monitor but we can’t influence the weather so need to ride what comes – I’m really hoping for some heavy frosts to help kill back the annual pests.” 

This combination of unpredictably and locality is what excites Tom Wedgery, who was born in Devon and has recently returned after starting his career as an international sommelier. A sudden drought or change in temperature can damage a harvest but can also create unique conditions and very special vintages.

Christened ‘stony field’, a well-drained piece of land has just been planted with six new grape varieties, chosen carefully both for the evolving English climate and palate. The same enormous chunks of rock that made the field an untenable curse for the local dairy farmers, are a blessing for the winemakers with the limestone chunks replicating the famous soils of Burgundy in France.

The new owners of the vineyard combine confidence and vision with investment in new equipment and architecture, to reflect the eco-credentials demanded by the staff and customers alike. Shiny new presses, gravity tanks, sorting tables and the cellar are all fed by solar panels and the valley’s stream made circular with an on-site water treatment.

With both a busy tourist season and more unpredictable weather ahead – it’s refreshing to see an example of where small businesses are adapting and thriving in our changing climate and culture.