The A-Z of Somerset: C is for Cidermaker
PUBLISHED: 14:20 24 October 2016 | UPDATED: 17:05 24 October 2016
With one foot in tradition and one in innovation, how does Somerset inspire its workers? Over the coming months Vik Martin will take a stroll through the alphabet to find out
In my quest for the ultimate A-Z of Somerset workers, I didn’t have to strain too hard for this idea.
I walk down the track, past a rainbow of willow, into five acres of rolling hills and I think to myself, ‘you can’t get much more Somerset than this’. In a small shed at the end, a smiling bearded man in wellies hoses down a row of wooden barrels. He greets me in a broad London accent, and the illusion is shattered.
Rich Hudson is responsible for producing a well-known local cider, and I wouldn’t be doing my job if I didn’t start off with a little taste. I’m quite fussy, but I’m pleasantly surprised; it’s crisp, light, and very drinkable. Rich looks pleased. “It’s going to be a good year for Dick Willows.”
So why ‘Dick Willows’?
“It’s something I overheard when I walked into a room once. ‘Here comes Dick Willows.’ it was literally because I’m called Richard and I grow willow. I heard it and I thought ‘that’s a good business name.”
It’s a brand I’ve heard of, so I’d assumed it was big business, but it turns out to be a small subsistence venture.
“To keep under the duty threshold I only sell 7000 L per year, which is 12000 pints. At £3.50 a pint it’s a decent living for one person. That’s why I only do small events these days, and no wholesale. We rear our own meat, do a bit of barter down at the farmers market and keep the bills down,” he grins.
“And I don’t have to spend very much on booze.”
Rich was brought up in the Southeast, so how did he end up in Somerset?
“I was teaching English in Spain and looking to buy some land either out there or in Somerset. My girlfriend dragged me here in the end, and it was the best decision I ever made. I’m going nowhere else now.”
When he moved here 23 years ago he wasn’t really sure what he wanted to grow, so he let the setting decide. The area influenced his choice of crop, and its position near two cities made the end product easier to sell.
“I just thought, “What do they grow in Somerset? Of course. Apples. Eating apples are difficult because buyers are so fussy about the look, but cider apples, you just grow them, press them and make the cider.
“I sell at farmers markets, night markets and a few foodie events in Bath and Bristol and that makes me all I really need for the year. The rest of the time I can get on with the other things I want to do: smallholding, willow growing, and the gradual development of this place.
“Moneywise, I’m sustaining my lifestyle and of course the land is growing in value so that’s my children’s inheritance. My plan is just to keep living here and produce cider.
“I love cider.”