Guernsey still makes cider in 1951

19th January 2018

The Vimeira estate.  An article from the Morning Advertiser, January 18, 1951, by Basil C de Guerin. From his Scrapbook K, p. 10 (Staff.)

One of the annual crops grown on Guernsey, of which little is heard, and which, as a matter of fact, few islanders themselves know anything about, is that of cider apples. Only one orchard remains on the island today of the many hundreds which were to be seen about the country a century ago.

With the decline of cider as a 'national' drink and the octopus-like spread of glasshouses on Guernsey in the interval, land has become too expensive to devote to an industry which pays so poorly and is so dependent upon climatic conditions.

Circumstances have combined to preserve the orchard at the Vimeira estate at Rohais Road, St Peter Port, where some 100 trees continue to produce their variable quantities of sweet, bitter and sour apples according to the weather. The life of these trees has been spared because over half a century ago the extensive premises were taken over from the owner by a French ecclesiastical community that had been ejected from their homeland. They added to the building in order to supply them with the cider which they drank at nearly every meal.

Today, the Vimeira is an hotel and will, when alterations are completed, be able to accommodate over 200 persons in single bedrooms at one time. The cider-making is continued by the present proprietor, Mr T J Quevatre, under supervision of his son, Hayward, as a side-line. As this is made from home-grown apples no licence is required, though the small quantity of wine made annually may not be sold.

The process of making the cider is identical with that adopted by the Frenchmen before post-war economic conditions drove them back to France and the blessing of a more benevolent government.

German HQ: hidden store

During the period of occupation, the Germans made the building one of their headquarters, and very soon accounted for all stocks of wine and cider on hand.

Throughout their stay of five years, however, they neglected to lift the linoleum on the floor of the kitchen service-room. Had they done so they would have discovered a trap leading to a cistern fourteen feet deep and eight feet in diameter, in which were stored not only the reverend brothers' choicest vintage wines, but many valuable relics and jewelled apparel which escaped detection under the constant passage of German jack-boots. 

The apple crop is brought into the cellars to ripen, and is bottled at the end of November or in December, though, on occasion, it has been left to the New Year. The trees are late in blooming, doing so in June or even July.

Champagne bottles: strong brew

After crushing, the pulp is allowed to stand for 24 hours to attain 'colour' and is then passed through the press installed by the former occupants and built by Simon Frères, of Cherbourg.

A feature of this press is the series of woooden lattices which are placed at intervals of six inches between the pulp in order to distribute pressure evenly. The juice stands fermenting for three weeks and is then bottled, the ideal container being champagne bottles, as the ordinary cider bottle is not strong enough for this local brew.

1950 crop poor

A battery of six 120-gallon brandy casks is used for fermentation from which the purified liquid is siphoned to casks holding 150 or 200 gallons, for storage. It is interesting to note that these latter were washed up on the island beaches many years ago from the wreck of a ship laden with wine and were bought by the French brothers for £3 a piece, including the wine they contained.

The yield of cider apples depends on weather conditions and the 1950 crop was poor. About 500 gallons has been made, but a fine summer will produce more than twice that amount.

Accumulation of stock since the war, together with this year's yield, account for over 1,000 bottles in the storage cellar. Here there is also to be seen a stock of local wine from the vintage year 1940. This was made during the grape season which followed the seizure of the island by the Germans. As it was impossible any longer to ship the grapes away to the usual English market they were being sold locally at ½d per lb.!

For the history of cider-making in Guernsey see Barbarie Falla and Barbarie Rillie