A century of cider-making expertise at village company

PUBLISHED: 09:00 04 November 2012

Apples being collected at Myrtle Farm

Apples being collected at Myrtle Farm

Neil Phillips Photography

AS THE nights draw in and the days get colder, important work is still going on in orchards in North Somerset.

While the eating apple harvest has long finished, thousands of apples are being picked at Myrtle Farm in Sandford to make Somerset’s most famous product – cider.

For more than a century Thatchers Cider has been made in the village – but it turns out that picking and pressing apples is not the only thing going on at the farm in Station Road.

Although William Thatcher first started producing cider on the farm in 1904, it is believed the family began producing it decades before in Langford.

In the days of William Thatcher workers were often partially paid in cider, and the family’s reputation grew as it was distributed to pubs in North Somerset in giant wooden barrels.

William’s great-grandson Martin is now at the helm and 108 years after the first cider was produced at the farm and distributed locally, the firm’s products can now be found in pubs and supermarkets across the country.

And cider is not the only product made at the firm’s orchards, which produce about 70 million pints of the golden stuff each year.

Ribena may not seem a natural bedfellow for bottles of cider, but Thatchers helps to produce it through a contract with healthcare giant GlaxoSmithKline, which makes the drink.

As part of its contract with the firm, which has run for 15 years, Thatchers presses about 95 per cent of all blackcurrants used in the UK for use in the squash drink.

Mr Thatcher said: “It’s been a very successful partnership with GlaxoSmithKline. It’s very good for a small business to be involved with a multinational.”

While the planting of apple trees and collection of apples – which will go on well into winter this year – is the most important factor in producing the firm’s cider, there are also myriad other things Mr Thatcher and his team need to take into consideration.

Among them are bees, some of the less-heralded but no-less industrious workers at the farm.

Whereas honey bees had previously been used to help pollinate the firm’s apples, they have now been joined by bumble bees, which fly better in wet weather.

Mr Thatcher said: “We’ve just planted some flowers around the orchards to help attract them.

“The other thing about them is they are not very effective when collecting nectar from plants but they are very good at spreading pollen, which helps to pollinate the apples.”

This year has seen the firm’s new television advert played on TV sets across the country, and the coming years are likely to see the firm continue its expansion. But, as Mr Thatcher added: “Cider is quintessentially English and quintessentially Somerset – it’s a good place to be really.”

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