"Regard your good name as the richest jewel you can possibly be possessed of - for credit is like fire; when once you have kindled it you may easily preserve it, but if you once extinguish it, you will find it an arduous task to rekindle it again. The way to gain a good reputation is to endeavor to be what you desire to appear."
SocratesThankyou Socrates. For the international among you who might be unsure, Protected Geographical Status (PGS) is a legal framework defined in European Union law to protect the names of regional foods. Protected Geographical Indication (PGI) is a legal status awarded to certain foodstuffs within that framework, linking certain products to a specific place. It ensures that only products genuinely originating from that place and made to a certain standard are can legally be identified as such. Its about identifying provenance and protecting the authentic. In the words of the Somerset Cider Brandy producer Julian Temperley 'its a way to stay legal' (which is an interesting paradox coming from the man known in the cider world as the 'bad boy of cider.')
Many people know of Julian - he is an outspoken Somerset based cidermaker who makes fantastic Burrow Hill cider, he runs the iconic Cider Bus at Glastonbury Festival and has also revived the art of distilling Somerset Cider Brandy. The farm is about a 15 minute drive from where I live and one of my local cider farms. Much of the work I have produced has come from Burrow Hill and much of the knowledge and opinion I have has been formed there.
In autumn 2007 whilst the world was unwittingly spending its way toward recession and Julian was just starting to think about pressing his apples, some busy beaver in Brussels decided that the descriptions that outline the regulations of spirits registered within the EU needed 'updating' and by January 2008, with no objections from our government, the term 'cider brandy' was dropped. The regulations still allowed for terms like cherry brandy, apricot brandy and grain brandy even, but curiously not apple brandy, making it illegal for anyone to use the term 'cider brandy' on the label. Of course, making anything alcoholic 'illegal' will only ever make it more popular and If I didn't know better, I would suspect Julian himself of unprecedented levels of guerrilla marketing.
In English, Brandy is a collective noun for distilled spirits made from fermented fruit, and although we've always called it that the change in law suddenly made it illegal to use that phrase anymore despite it being made from APPLES and hard evidence of production by that name here in Somerset as early as 1668! Calvados, Armagnac and Cognac are all regional forms of Brandy, so why, in our own language, can't we continue to use the term cider brandy? It was rather sneakily reclassified as 'cider spirit' which is somewhat more ambiguous (and a whole lot less sexy sounding) due to the fact that some producers in the warmer parts of Yurp were selling excess 'fruit spirit' (after having fulfilled their their own needs) to various countries for use in Vodka. Without that specific term (cider brandy) Julian realised the Somerset Cider Brandy Company would have lost the heritage that underpins the prestige Somerset Cider Brandy has, and even if it did survive, it would never have been the same again.
[Enter hero stage left] Graham Watson MEP:
"There was a whole Armada of Spanish Brandy producers desperate to stop things like cider brandy being on the market. When I learned about this I took up the cudgels on behalf of Somerset Cider Brandy" Julian and Graham approached the European Commission and whilst they sympathised, they declined to amend the regulation but promised to support a Somerset Cider Brandy application for PGI status if they wanted to apply.
Getting a PGI is a long drawn out process- its European bureaucracy with bells on. You have to wait 6 months for this and 6 months for that, then another 6 months for public consultation blah blah... at the end of which, if no-one objects, it gets automatically approved. So it began and continued until, in a last minute and overtly dramatic twist at 4.30pm on April 9th 2010, half an hour away from a PGI, a dossier appears on a desk objecting to its approval. Any objection automatically leads to another 6 months of enforced (and in this case unpleasant) discussion with the objectors. Usually if an adult has a problem they let you know about it and problems are discussed, thats how Brussels likes to work, sensibly. The calculated last-minute appearance of a massive document like this denoted a snider approach to business than the Commission is used to dealing with, something that Julian refers to as the ambush in Brussels "It smelt like a problem from the Scots Whiskey Association. They deny it, but they have form, but it maybe the French, or both." Graham, rather diplomatically, phrases it differently "Ultimately within European politics – unlike the yah-boo of Westminster – it is the norm to work alongside opposing views to reach a satisfactory agreement." And so it continued. I can't go into every detail, its a very complex, long-winded if occasionally humorous saga that I am not intelligent enough to understand entirely. Although, at one stage, a simple grammatical error in an official letter to the Calvados producers association, Julian managed to address the president as 'My darling Mr. Bidou...' to the greatest amusement of the members. The whole rigmarole lasted for 4 long years... until they finally won it 16 votes for, with 1 abstention from Spain (Hola!) in September this year.
I asked Graham what made him go for it 'I was well aware of Julian’s local tipple. When he approached me for advice, I was happy to help. There were several moments through the application where I wondered if we would get agreement especially with those countries that produce the likes of Calvados. They – understandably – wanted to stand up for their producers. I worked closely alongside Julian, UK civil servants the Commission officials. I'm pleased to say, that after 4 years campaigning, we finally got PGI status. It was clear from a chain of text messages I was receiving that day that one-by-one Countries were saying they were happy with Cider Brandy’s PGI status. When emails confirming there wasn’t a problem from the likes of Spain and France came through I knew the matter was finally resolved. I am delighted for Julian! It’s a success for him, and for common sense."
Huzzah for common sense, which brings me onto my next point. Ironically, if you search through DEFRAs list of British registered PGI's there is nothing for cider in Somerset... it seems like we don't want one!
The Three Counties (Gloucester, Herefordshire and Worcester) all have PGI protected cider and perry, but Julian went on to explain the the different producers here favour different techniques to suit their specific needs and if you set a PGI (complete with strict production guidelines) the consequence will be a fracturing of the component parts what make up Somerset Cider is. Eg: Julian would push for 95% minimum cider apple juice, other (larger) producers would push for far less (no more than 40%) because they are significantly larger, more commercial operations and couldn't survive as they are using 95% fruit. Although not artisan (and to die hard cider snobs therefore 'inferior' - yawn) the larger industrial cidermakers in throughout the UK play an important role, selling huge amounts of cider in supermarkets and pubs giving structure to the industry. Part of Somerset Ciders particular appeal is that its so difficult to define definitely and we do have industrial scale cidermakers here that need to be considered too. Trying to pin down precisely the things a PGI status should protect would only split the region, and create a civil war within the counties cidermaker, the last thing we want.
I heard Julian talking to Slow Food about distilling and he summed it up this way'
'Thats what we're really known for here... as distillers of traditional apples. It requires apples coming from known orchards grown in a traditional way without the benefit of artificial nitrogen and then it requires time, there's no way you can speed a maturing process, it is different wood and different barrels over time. Philosophy is a totally foreign concept in UK farming. UK farming tends to be Anglo-Saxon, it is practical; there is a question, there is a logical answer. Philosophy in a farmyard, in the past, would have no place but I think the Slow Food movement understands the philosophy of artisan production"
And those last five words are why Somerset Cider Brandy got its PGI. Huzzah to that too.
|Tim, distiller at Somerset Cider Brandy Company|
|Warm cheese toastie|
|Eau de vie? (don't mind if I do)|
|Julian Temperley. Does he look like a man you would argue with?|
|3, 5, 10, 15 and 20 year old Somerset Cider Brandy|
|Limited edition Damien Hirst designed label for 20yr old Somerset Cider Brandy|