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Centre of the apple universe

Centre of the apple universe


The lush, beautiful Huon Valley is set to become to the burgeoning Tasmanian cider industry what the Tamar Valley is to the island’s wine industry.

The Willie Smiths and Franks brands’ producers have led the cider charge in the historic and ideal apple growing region south of Hobart, and each boasts a unique quality in their individual boutique beverages. Willie Smiths, which is certified organic, and Franks, which uses Golden Delicious apples from antique trees, both boast deep ancestral roots in the industry and the district.

Willie Smith’s Organic Apple Cider comes from apples in an orchard first planted in 1888 by William Smith, the son of convicts. Willie’s son Ron began exporting apples around the world, and Ron’s son Ian managed through hard work and ingenuity to keep the business going when the Tasmanian apple industry declined radically. Ian’s son Andrew decided that to beat crippling freight costs he needed a more lucrative crop, and as a modern, worldly young man with a philosophy of sustainable, environmentally friendly production, decided to grow all organic apples, go high tech, and to value add. He now supplies eating apples to Woolworths, juicing apples to Juicy Isle, and since 2012 has been making Willie Smith’s cider in a $250,000 facility located in the thick of the 55ha Smith family orchard.

apple cider81Andrew teamed up with Sam Reid, former marketing manager for drinks at multinational Diageo, in the Willie Smith’s enterprise, which uses commercial eating apple varieties such as Fuji, Pink Lady and Royal Gala in their brew.

“We have perfected growing apples over four generations, and use all our own apples in the cider,” says Andrew. “If you start with a great product, you can create a great product.”

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Andrew Smith and Sam Reid

Sam Reid says that their cider’s organic content is an important point of difference to other brands as people are more and more concerned about the food and drink they’re putting in their bodies.

“Because cider is made from the juice of whole fruit – or at least should be – making an organic claim on the label is much more relevant and meaningful than on, say, beer,” says Sam. “And our organic status hopefully also draws attention to the fact that our cider is made from real, whole apples, not watered-down, imported apple juice concentrate.”

Andrew and Sam consulted with specialty craft brewer Neal Cameron to achieve their goal of creating a traditional French farmhouse style cider. The hand-picked, tree-ripened apples are pressed for their juice which is then double fermented using French white wine yeast in stainless steel tanks before being aged in oak vats for up to three months. It is then blended and left to settle in maturation tanks for another two to three months.

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Clive Crossley and Lynne Uptin

“We knew the flavour profile we were after,” says Sam, “something unique to the Australian market and a lot more crafted. It is has a truly distinctive style, full of character and flavour and with plenty of complexity and structure.”

Success has been quick and stunning, with Willie Smith’s named one of the nation’s five best ciders by The Age Epicure Magazine and the beverage going gangbusters in Tasmania and on the mainland. Sam and Andrew hope that the cider will help attract visitors to the Huon Valley, and to enhance that prospect have refurbished an historic apple packing shed at Grove which now features a re-interpreted museum, providore-style shop and cider bar.

apple cider41Crafted from local timber 70 years ago, The Apple Shed and has become a gateway to the Huon Valley and will be a key part in the planned Tasmanian Cider Trail. The refurbishment was financed by Willie Smith’s, with the help of a $150,000 grant from the State Government, and it is hoped that the shed will prove a world-class tourism drawcard.
As well as having its own cider on tap, Willie Smith’s new attraction offers visitors produce from across the region – and the state – in a celebration of all things Tasmanian.
“Out the front of the museum is an original apple label painted on the door that reads ‘Apple Valley’,” Andrew Smith said. “We think that just about sums it up – if Tassie is the Apple Isle, the Huon Valley is the heart of that.”

apple cider17The co-owner of Franks Cider, Naomie Clark-Port, also sees a future for the valley as a cider-lover’s destination, and is constructing a cellar door/cafe in a renovated church hall in Franklin. Naomie belongs to the fifth generation of her family to occupy Woodside, the picturesque 60ha property on the outskirts of Franklin that includes the apple and pear orchard from which the fruit comes for Frank’s apple and pear ciders.

apple cider72“Our cider is named after my grandfather Frank Clark, who was the grandson of Franklin’s first setter in 1836,” says Naomie. “Frank lived all his years at Woodside, and its orchards were his life. He had many sayings that have become Clark family catch phrases, including ‘life is an orchard, full of good fruit’, which we think capture the spirit of the man, and we think we’ve captured that spirit with Frank’s Cider.”
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Frank, who was born in 1894 and died in 1975, liked to call the valley ‘The Centre of the Apple Universe’ and each bottle of Franks Summer Apple Cider and Franks Summer Pear Cider lists that as the beverage’s place of origin.  Another of his favourite sayings was ‘we don’t muck around’, and Naomie and her husband Tony Port, her partner in the Frank’s Cider enterprise, did not muck around when choosing their cider maker. They enlisted celebrated Tasmanian wine maker Julian Alcorso to craft their premium quality fruit, including Golden Delicious apples from trees generations old, into premium quality cider. The results were immediate, with their Summer Pear Cider winning Best in Class at the Australian Cider Awards soon after they began production in 2012, and their Summer Apple Cider also winning a bronze medallion.

“It was so early in the piece and so rushed that we sent up clean skins,” says Naomie, “but we rightly believed that the brand characteristics lie wholly in the taste.”

The taste of Frank’s cider is now enjoyed around Tasmania and in many parts of mainland Australia, but Naomie and Tony will continue to focus on quality rather than quantity.

apple cider51Another important cider resource in the Huon Valley is the former Grove Research and Development Station site, leased by Oak Enterprises from the State Government and the place where the artisan Lost Pippin Cider was developed before the enterprise was moved to Richmond recently. Boasting a repository of more than 850 cultivars and lines of apples, pears and quinces, the Grove site is also home to Australia’s largest collection of heritage apples and pear trees, many of which are no longer commercially available and some that are no longer even found in their land of origin. Many cider varieties are included in the collection, some extremely rare and some unidentified.

apple cider39Sam Reid says that plans are afoot to link the new Apple Shed to the heritage orchard with a walking track, making it a visitor attraction, but its value as a resource to cider makes is priceless.

The Grove orchard’s extraordinary range has been tapped into extensively by Clive Crossley, one of the pioneers of the new wave of the Tasmanian cider industry. Clive has obtained many of the cider varieties from the heritage collection for his backyard orchard at Middleton, which he began planting more than a quarter of a century ago, and has added even more varieties gathered from around Australia.

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Willie Smith’s brewer Rowl Muir-Wilson

“We now have 16 English cider and 15 French cider varieties, and another 15 or so apple and pear varieties used for cooking and perry,” Clive says. “The Grove heritage collection and I have between us nearly all the cider and perry varieties known to exist in Australia, and I have an enthusiasm to identify and preserve these varieties for the future. I get inquiries from all over Australia about providing scion material.”

With partner Lynne Uptin, Clive makes the artisan Red Sails Cider and Perry from real cider apples handpicked from their orchard, which overlooks the D’Entrecasteaux Channel near the mouth of the Huon River. Clive grew up near Yarlington, a famous cider region in England’s West Country, and his cider owes much to that historic tradition. His orchard contains many of the old English cider apple varieties found there.

“This is the perfect place to grow apples,” says Clive. “With the right soil they grow themselves.”

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The Apple Isle rides again


Tasmania didn’t export a single apple in 2012, for the first time in 130 years. Yet the Apple Isle sobriquet is making a comeback with the help of a growing group of Tasmanian producers determined to ride a national boom in cider consumption.

As renowned beverage buff Max Allen recently wrote in Gourmet Traveller magazine recently, cider’s popularity has ebbed and flowed ever since commercial cider was first exported from Tasmania 150 years ago.

apple cider38“All the rage in the ’70s, out of favour in the ’90s,” Allen wrote. “Now, in 2013, Tasmania – Australia, in fact – is in the middle of another cider craze. New producers are popping up all over the place: winemakers and brewers are fermenting apples and pears; and veteran orchardists are diversifying into the resurgent cider market.
“Best of all, many of these cider-makers are located in gorgeous parts of Tasmania – from the D’Entrecasteaux Channel in the south to Cradle Mountain in the north – making a cider-themed tour a particularly enjoyable way to see the island.”apple cider80

With plentiful apple and pear orchards and a taste for cider that has persisted for generations, the beverage is a natural value-added product for the State, which has a long history of cider production.

Woolmers Estate near Longford, established in the early 19th Century, sent cider to Ballarat during the gold rush of the 1860s. Cascade’s Mercury Cider range has been slaking local thirsts since 1911, while also supplying a steady, if relatively limited, interstate market. (In a sign of the times, Carlton United Brewery has launched its own Artisan Mercury Cider to complement its traditional range.)

apple cider37Now things have changed, with cider heading beverage consumption growth in Australia over the past two years and exploding in overseas markets.

Consumption increased by 31.3 per cent in the trend-setting American market in 2012.

Growth has been more modest in Australia and cider now accounts for about four per cent of the total market, up from 1.5 per cent five years ago. This year’s two-day Tamar Valley Beer Festival reflected the cider upsurge by providing customers with a dedicated Cider Lounge.

apple cider16Cider isn’t the only hope of the State’s 20 surviving major orchards (compared with 2,200 in the 1970s), but it’s a useful diversification in difficult times.

The industry believes there is upside potential and consumers are showing particular interest in artisan brewers – a situation tailor-made for Tasmania’s small business sector. Indeed, a number of Tasmanian ciders including Franks and Red Sails have won prestigious awards at mainland shows.

Mark Robertson, the President of Cider Tasmania, the newly formed association of Tasmanian cider producers, says that the focus is on quality rather than quantity.

“One of the things the craft cider industry is trying to do at the moment is to widen the spectrum and differentiate itself from the mass produced ciders,” says Mark, who makes Lost Pippin Cider. “We are looking more at the boutique, premium handcrafted end of the market.”

apple cider59Among the labels riding the boom and solidifying the State’s cider reputation are:

  • Captain Bligh
  • Dickens Cider
  • Frank’s Cider
  • Lost Pippin
  • Mercury Cider
  • Muir’s Restaurant
  • Pagan Cider
  • Red Sails
  • Small Players
  • 2-Metre Tall Company
  • Tasmanian Inn Cider
  • Velo
  • Willie Smith
  • Winemaking Tasmania (produces cider for a number of brands)

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All pictures by Simon de Salis

This story first appeared in the Spring 2013 issue of Tasmanian Regions. You can find back issues of the magazine here