Aspall Cyder - Cider and Vinegar

Aspall Press Opening September 29th 2015

15th October 2015


It’s not until you look back that you realise just how far you have come. I know, bit of an obvious statement, but there are times when the circumstance of the reflection adds a great deal of weight and clarity to the perspective.

We have just opened up our new press house; this is the fifth new press the family have put in place at Aspall. The first, in 1728, is unlikely to be topped for years in service – 244 in total. 244 years of barely perceptible change.

We decided that in honour and recognition of the family nature of our business there would be nobody better to cut the ribbon for the opening than Mum. She came to Aspall with Father and 2 young sons in 1970, and it was while talking to her about it that it really sank in just how far we have come.

Whilst it can be funny to hear the stories from those early years of their tenure, - of lights that continually fused, rooves that always leaked, useful looking buckets whose bottoms would immediately fall out when pressed into service, - the reality of the size of their task is stark to listen to.

Mum and Father became the first generation to put in a new apple press at Aspall since Clement did so in 1728. Then, as today, the technology was provided by the Swiss apple pressing wizards Bucher-Guyer. I can just – barely just – remember the day, being as I was all of 4 years old. Typically, my memories are of the crane driver’s cabin, with all the brightly coloured levers and knobs. The apple press barely entered my side vision. Mum remembered it being a glorious day, as it was for this grand opening 43 years on.

11 years after the 1972 edition press, the miracle of modern apple pressing it had been in its day was replaced by something even more whizz-bang: a push button cylindrical press that could process twice the fruit, and helped grow the business dramatically in to the world of supermarket apple juice.

A second press, added shortly after, was ordered and en route to the site before my parents had worked out how they were going to pay for it. But pay for it they did and the business boomed.

I learned to press apples on these 2; paying my way for a trip around the world, and later learning the intricacies of apple processing and pressing; which apples made what type of juice; which stored well, which didn’t. And getting to grips with how a business worked. A veritable rite of passage.

It was not then without some considerable shock earlier this summer, that I witnessed these 2 giants of my teenage years being dragged out of their home of 3 decades to make way for this year’s new arrival, and being un-ceremoniously chopped up and deposited into scrap metal skips. They owed us nothing, and they had come to the end of their road.

I didn’t quite get to chaining myself to them to stop this wanton destruction, but I certainly found myself saying out loud – and to no one in particular – “I learnt to press on those”.

I’m not sure if there is an anthropomorphic equivalent for inanimate objects – I can’t believe there isn’t one for all those folk who give their cars pet names and who weep when they go to auto heaven. But I had it that Saturday morning as the presses succumbed to the industrial dinosaur’s jaws.

This is my parents’ legacy I found myself saying; it shouldn’t be so readily cast asunder – how much anxiety, passion, desire and sheer will power had gone in to getting these presses there. I didn’t quite get to chaining myself to them to stop this wanton destruction, but I certainly found myself saying out loud – and to no one in particular – “I learnt to press on those”.

The legacy, oh, the legacy.

And then of course it dawned on me: the legacy is all around us; from the orchards planted by our Great Grandfather; the Hall, renovated by 8 generations of Chevalliers; the Great Barn, the bottling lines, the keg filler, the brand. And the people; the cast of characters who have not only been part of the journey of a family cider maker with its roots so deep in Suffolk, but without whom this story would at best be incomplete.

And now we rightly stare and coo at the latest shiny apple processing kit, knowing what efficiencies it will bring; to a man, to a woman, all being justifiably proud of the achievement and readying ourselves for the next part of the journey.

Mum may have cut the ribbon on the biggest and newest apple press (at time of writing) in the UK, but the real story lies around it, in the faces and the passion of the people who were there to witness the opening, who made it happen, not only today, in years gone by and into the future. However big, shiny and impressive the new machinery is – and believe me, this one has all three of these in abundance – that dynamic will never change.

Here’s to the next 5 presses, however long they take to appear.