Cheltenham based Julian Dunkerton is the founder of cult clothing brand Superdry. In 2014, he took over the award-winning Dunkertons Cider, established in 1980 in Herefordshire by his father Ivor and step-mother Susie. Dunkertons, an organic company, uses only traditional cider apples and perry pears. Emma Logan asked Julian Dunkerton about the future of his cider making business.
What is the heritage of the family involvement viz a vis the cider apples and cider itself?
Dunkertons history reaches back to 1980 when my father Ivor and step-mother Susie Dunkerton made the decision to escape London and buy a small holding in Pembridge, Herefordshire. They realised with such a small amount of land, they needed to specialise and cider was the answer! At that time Herefordshire had two companies that dominated cider production in the county with very few traditional cider producers despite the vast amount of orchards. Ivor and Susie spotted an opportunity to make a unique cider whilst operating in a similar fashion to a vineyard and without using concentrates or chemicals. Dunkertons Cider has been making organic cider and perry now for over 35 years. Our drinks range includes both blended and single varieties that are made using traditional cider apples with names like Court Royal, Foxwhelp, Kingston Black, or perry pears called Judge Amphlett, Thorn and Moorcroft. We make our drinks in harmony with the environment and we have been awarded Soil Association certification for all our ciders and perry as well as for our orchards. Our drinks are made using pure pressed juice from the organic fruit harvested in our own orchards or from the organic orchards of local farms. Three years ago, Ivor and Susie decided it was time to step back from the running of the business and I took over along with Jeremy (Bean) Benson who looks after the day-to-day management of the company. I had been good friends with Bean for many years, knowing he was running a successful fruit juice business in Cheltenham so he was a natural choice to partner with.
Susie & Ivor were progressive for their time in creating the UK’s first truly organic cider brand. What was their thought process behind this
The decision to make organic cider was driven by Susie and Ivor’s love for nature – first and foremost they believed in looking after the countryside by not using any pesticides and fertilisers and set about creating award winning drinks in harmony with nature. Dunkertons today still believe that our job as organic cider makers is to let the apples and pears do the talking, which is why we have crafted the art of blending different varieties to create unique drinks. We wholeheartedly carry on the heritage of what Ivor and Susie started as pioneers of organic cider production. As Ivor once said,“We’re deep into flavour here. Our ciders really taste of apples.”
When did you decide and why, to continue the development of the business and move the production to the Cotswolds?
This is not a decision that was taken lightly. After the death of my father last year and having spent 35 years’ operating in Pembridge we decided to move the production of our cider to a specially developed site just outside Cheltenham in Dowdeswell. Unfortunately, our Pembridge site did not allow for further expansion so the business had very limited capacity in terms of growing our volume of production;the move to a purpose developed premises allowed for future growth.The move will also allow us to develop new ciders to complement our existing range.
How important is it for you that it is now based here and what parts of the business continue in Herefordshire?
There was no choice in my mind but to continue the family business. Accessibility to London and awareness of the brand are key drivers in choosing this new location. Bean already has a thriving business in Cheltenham, plus my acquiring the retail park allows us to work locally and expand the business in terms of production capacity. Susie (Dunkerton) still owns the orchards in Herefordshire, as do most of our organic growers,some of which have been supplying Dunkertons with their fruit since the early 80’s. We recognise that provenance is critical to our history and to our customers and we will continue to honour our heritage and consolidate our legacy.
How do you feel the brand benefits the local economies in both Herefordshire and the Cotswolds?
Dunkertons now uses growers of organic apples and pears from three counties; Herefordshire, Worcestershire and Gloucestershire. Our 8 growers under our own organic license as part of our growers group will continue to supply us. We are also delighted to be able to encourage new growers to convert to organic standards and we are working closely with 3 new producers to start that process already which takes 3 years to complete. We also have Helen Browning who is Chief Executive of the Soil Association coming on board as a supplier once her newly planted orchards produce their first crop of cider apples and perry pears.
Do you take on apprentices to learn the skill of cider making? If so, what is the training duration and what,if any qualifications do the individuals need?
We strive to bring young people into the business, although at present we don’t have an “official scheme” we are always keen to bring in ambitious youngsters. Working closely with the original production team from Pembridge is how they learn skills,process and knowledge. One lad has been working with us in his spare time since he was 14, he has now left school and joined full time. There are no real qualifications needed, apart from a belief in the product, willingness to learn and reliability! I love to see young peoples interest in cider making.
How do you see the business develop in the next 3-5 years?
We have the best ciders in Britain, what we needed to do was to up our production to meet demand. We will continue to invest to meet that demand which is both in Britain and export.
What makes Dunkertons Cider so special?
The reason that our cider is so special is down to how Ivor and Susie perfected hand blending by selecting the best fruit designed for cider and perry making. Each of the varieties we use has its own uniqueness in relation to the characteristics of the end product. They loved fine wine and using similar thinking in creating cider and perry makes us unique. We press apples and pears only in harvest season from October to December and the juice isn’t ready for a full year – the longer you leave the juice, the richer the depth of the flavour – the better the product.
Of your range of ciders which one do you prefer to drink?
I like them all but Black Fox, is my favourite.
What makes a premium organic cider?
The process begins with the quality of the fruit varieties, pressing them and then carefully choosing specific varieties to make a blend. At harvest time, we make sure the fruit is in the right condition, not too soft,to produce a nice quality juice.
We carefully monitor the juices throughout the fermentation process over the year. Continual tests for specific gravities which checks the sugar content which in turn gives an indication of the potential alcohol of the fermented cider makes a difference. Timing, testing and fermentation is absolutely critical to what we do.
For the ‘home brew’ enthusiasts what are the key factors to making an organic cider?
Primarily – Don’t let air into your vessel or vat after pressing. One single type of apple doesn’t usually have all the qualities that you want in your final cider so choose your fruit varieties carefully. Most cider is made from a blend of apples that contribute various flavours and aromas giving depth and balance
We understand you already export internationally – where are you going and where would you like to go in the world? Do foreigners have an understanding of cider or is this still an emerging market
This is an emerging market; there is a definite growing knowledge and they are understanding the difference between ciders from culinary and dessert fruits and concentrates – a completely different taste on the palate and ours, which is the true method. We currently export to areas of: The US, Canada, Russia, Ukraine, Lithuania, Netherlands, Denmark, Estonia, Sweden, Hong Kong, Czech Republic, Finland, Taiwan, Switzerland, Norway, Canada. We have ongoing enquiries in France, Germany, Malta and within all the territories above there is scope to grow our presence. As I said before the US will be key to our growth and recently winning both gold and bronze awards for our Dry Organic cider and Organic Perry at the US Open Cider Championships will certainly help to promote an appreciation and develop brand awareness for our product.
Do you see yourself as the custodian of the Dunkertons brand and is it your wish that it will be able to stay in the family for future generations?
Yes, definitely, this will always be a family business and as custodian, it is my job to take the incredible product my father and stepmother created and turn it into a globally recognised brand. With the new production plant, investment in infrastructure and knowledge of market trends we have started that journey!
Dunkertons Cider will open a new shop on site at Dowdeswell Park,Cheltenham in May 2018.
All our ciders and perry are available to buy online