New cider apple varieties are key to the 50,000 trees being planted this spring by Somerset cider maker Thatchers, covering around 40ha.
The Gilly, Angela and Lizzie varieties will be grown at the company's Shiplate site alongside traditional varieties such as Somerset Redstreak and Dabinett, in which Thatchers also continues to invest. The site was bought by the firm two years ago to help meet the growing demand for its ciders.
"It's south facing, sheltered and the soil quality is excellent. It's about as perfect a site for growing cider apples as you can get," said managing director Martin Thatcher.
"The quality of our cider starts right here in the development and stewardship of our orchards. Selecting varieties that provide the right combination of yield, juice and flavour is as much part of the cider maker's skill as blending the juice."
Thatchers has trialled several varieties bred by the former Long Ashton Research Station. Gilly, Angela and Lizzie are among more than 1,200 varieties it yielded. The latter was named after the programme's founder, Liz Copas.
"The first concern when breeding new varieties is the quality of the fruit and its juice - the balance of tannins, sweetness, acidity and other characteristics. Disease resistance and hardiness are important too. And you don't want varieties that all ripen at once. It's easier logistically if you have a mix of early-, midand late-season varieties that give you a 10-12 week window."
Simon Russell, representative, National Association of Cider Makers.