Devon cider maker creates ancient apples using DNA mapping

Sandford Orchards is celebrating huge success at the Devon County Show after winning seven out of a possible nine medals.

Several of the awards were won with ciders created from ancient apples which have been newly discovered as part of their DNA mapping project.

Barny Butterfield, founder of the firm said: “We pressed long-forgotten apple varieties discovered whilst working with the University of Bristol to uncover and preserve lost cider apple cultivars.

“We entered the resulting ciders into The Westcountry Cider Championships. They swept the board! We are thrilled with these medals which are a celebration of our efforts to find and rescue the very best apples that make the most delicious cider.”

Sandford Orchards is leading a DEFRA funded Innovate UK project with Keith Edwards, Emeritus Professor of Crop Genetics at Bristol University, to identify and map apple varieties in their ancient orchards and beyond.

By punching a small hole in leaves from individual trees, they are collecting samples for DNA fingerprinting from thousands of apple trees with the aim of locating, preserving and propagating unique and threatened varieties. The results of their research will help them save lost apple trees and plan for diversity and climate-resilience in their orchards.

Barny added: “This is beyond exciting, we were hoping we’d uncover something special – we could never have imagined that the results would be so emphatic. There has been tragic and generational loss of orchards in the West of England, with glorious varieties quietly vanishing from the landscape, and with them the recipes of centuries of cider makers. Well this stops right now. I consider this utterly remarkable result, a rebuke from the old orchards – we’ve been neglecting our role as custodians, we’ve forgotten to listen and to look and to taste, and here is the most fabulous evidence of what can be done if we make the effort to understand the huge diversity of fruit we have at our fingertips.”

James Crowden, cider maker and author of ‘Cider Country’ was one of the cider judges at the show. He says: “This cider is rich, complex, fruity with depth and subtlety reminiscent of cider from 50 years ago. It celebrates the rich harvest from old Devon cider apple trees whose names we have forgotten.  It’s a blast from the past and a stepping stone into the future!’

Michael Caines MBE, Michelin-starred chef and President of the Devon County Show comments: “I was so impressed with the level of detail and thought given to the selection of the apples that have gone into these wonderful ciders. They are world class and their expression is a unique taste of the past, brought back to life by Barny and his talented team.

“It’s a testament to their dedication not only to produce wonderful cider, but to preserve our heritage and diversity in cider making. Bravo, it’s truly a remarkable achievement.”

Founded in 2002, independent, family-owned Sandford Orchards is based in Crediton, Mid Devon in the oldest working cider mill in the UK.

The area has long been known as one of the most fertile parishes in all of Britain, both for its grazing and ability to grow apples. Crediton sits in the lee of the moors, so receives the right amount of rain and the right units of heat in summer.