Friday, 16 December 2011

Happy Birthday Bob, godfather of modern cidermaking

Today is 16th December. This day in 1846 a clever chap called Robert Neville-Grenville was born (what a treat to have a newborn so close Christmas!) He died 89 years later on 13 September 1936. 'Great..' I hear you say 'but who the chuff was he?' Allow me a brief introduction...

He was a squire, patron and a pioneer - someone all modern day cidermakers owe a little something to. He was born into a fortunate family so he studied at Eton and Cambridge, he went on to become a wealthy and prominent squire of Butleigh Court in Somerset in the 1880's. As squire, you were responsible for many things aside from the obvious, one of the most important being the livelihoods of the many families in your employ. As such, you had to manage your affairs successfully and the rural farming economy of the time here in Somerset very much depended on the cider and cidermaking - boiled down to the fact that quality cider was the lynchpin of a succesful farm. Quality cider meant decent labourers which meant..... you can figure out the rest. RN-G knew it was important to progress cidermaking from the farmyard into the science behind how and why it works so he started that process. He was instrumental in the cider industry and together with chemist Frederick J Lloyd spent 10 years experimenting and researching champagne ciders. Robert Neville Grenville set up experimentation into cider making at Butleigh Court during the 1890s, and supported the opening of the National Fruit and Cider Institute, Long Ashton, in 1903 to undertake systematic research into cider who then took on the mantle of modern cider research.

He even won a Gold medal from the French for his efforts in research and that doesn't happen every day

I LOVE the fact we had a National Fruit and Cider Institute, with a lab, for research, to make our cider BETTER!

I've heard he was a bit of a pioneering motorist too, due no doubt to that all the cider he had running through his veins. Maybe he was the inspiration for this little gem:

Thats how I like mine served.
After some Holmesian sleuthery, I managed to track down his grave so I could go and pay my respects.

Its quite tricky knowing what to do photographically speaking. I decided to keep it really straight and go for a documentary approach. Is there any reason to do it any other way?

Rest in Peace sir - you did good.

Monday, 5 December 2011

I WIN! (aka Cider Photography 101- don't expect to earn a living)

Good news, on Friday I was lucky enough to be informed I've been awarded first prize (€500 plus €100 of books) in the Spanish cider magazine 'La Sidra' photo competition (my life is now complete.)

For those of you that speak Spanish, here is the press release.

Being both cidery and photographic, I felt I had a few contenders 'in the bag' and as I was planning to travel to Asturias in 2012 to continue my exploration of global cider culture, I thought I should give it a go. Even if (as usual) I didn't place at all, it could be beneficial marketing. Having not seen what or who I was up against it was hard to get too excited about it, Cider photography a tiny and bespoke market so specialising in it is ridiculous really. I've entered some competitions in the past but always get lost in the melee never to be heard from again, so I didn't pay too much attention to the T&C's.

I thought, on the off chance I win anything at all, I should celebrate wisely by investing my winnings in a trip to Asturias, the home of the competition. I've spent so much time over the last seven years (and more money than I should) 'doing' cider, I could at least partly justify a cider specific trip the best way I can, by contributing competition winnings back into it. I rarely get paid for doing any cider work, more than 99% of my income comes from my freelance work (and even that doesn't earn me much if I'm honest.)

Primer Sidra del Añu, (First Cider of the Year) is an Asturian festival that celebrates the new years cider being ready, something I'm quite good at. A few cider buddies and I are talking about getting together there for a few days hardcore cider throwing. I especially enjoy the idea of celebrating it because its ready (I'm a firm believer in celebrating good news, its important) so here's my chance... early April, crisp Spring mornings, sunny warm evenings, passionate cider drinking festival... a win means I can go, its the green light I've been waiting for, funds available etc! However the organisers of the photo competition (who also know I am planning to attend Aprils festival) have kindly pointed out "it's NECESARY to come personally to receive the prize... so I'm afraid you're going to use a good part of your 500 € travelling" to Asturias in late January to collect the winnings. Having tentatively checked online, I can confirm that its more than likely to cost me the same (possibly more) than the winnings to go and collect the winnings. In this instance winning the competition means I can at best hope to break even, again leaving me poorer overall if I travel back 6 weeks later. Not even entering (and despite winning) it'll still cost me that trip to Asturias to document the festival. What a pickle to get oneself into with some good news. I have asked if we can delay and I can collect in April but... we shall see.

Here are the winning photographs.

1st place:
Falling Apples II
2nd place:

3rd place:
Silhoueta I

JR Cider 'special prize':
Mayando Fuerte

I have to say, I really like the second place entry, if I was judging that would have been difficult not to give it first place, it really appeals to me and I'd love to see more of his/her work. The technical aspects of it are really tight (the exposure, the contrast, the colours, the moment etc) but the social aspect of cidermaking as content really elevates it to something special. For me thats where the real power and interest of cider lies. It takes the subject away from the usual apples, orchards, glasses of juice etc and propels the theme to humanity and social history. It adds value, something many subjects could benefit from.

Anyway, the irony continues with my second, more immediate, much sillier (and cheaper) way for me to celebrate: by sharing with you another winning 'Photograph.' 

Go on, let all 4.12 minutes of it play, you know you want to. Its the most appropriate, feel good sound I can have in this situation, and its probably the only time I can ever vaguely justify posting this particular guilty pleasure on a cider photography blog. I've got so much more material in the pipeline, that its much more worthwhile and relevant. So apologies for my moment of self indulgent fun.

For any Lepp-geek-wannabes out there, 'Photograph' is from their 1983 album 'Pyromania'. When it was released as a single, it reached No. 1 on the Billboard Top Tracks chart and No. 12 on the Pop Singles chart. The album went on to sell over 10 million copies in the US alone, ranked number 384 on Rolling Stone's 500 Greatest Albums of All Time and placed the album ranked 35 in its list of Q magazines "40 Best Albums of the '80s.

X Factor wannabes, eat my 1980s pop-metal.

Thursday, 1 December 2011

Blog improvements

Blogging is quite dorky isn't it and I only realised that this week... so not only am I a dork, I'm quite slow on the uptake too. No doubt any of you that have met me, will have noticed that already..!

My only excuse is that I'm still new(ish) to it and don't read enough of them to borrow other peoples great ideas. Of course I want it to be interesting/stimulating as possible so I thought I should put my neck on the line and ask - what can I do to improve the blog? Is there anything you would you like to see/hear more of/less of etc? I have lots of stuff in the pipeline but rarely enough time to put them together regularly enough so apologies for that in advance. I'm up to my nuts in work and this has to take a back seat occiasionally.

Part of what I am trying to do is promote cider and awareness about it and photos are most understood 'in context' which is why I try and say something in each post. I'm not a writer and often wonder if people wish I would shut up and say less, -just let the photography do the talking.

Maybe I should even do every other 3 or 4th post as pictures only?

Can I ask for any ideas or suggestions you may have for making the site more enjoyable, informative, useful, popular etc.

Maybe you have a comment on the photography itself? Is there anything you think I can do to improve it? Is there anything you'd like to see?

Suggestions please: