Darkes Forest orchard enters cider market

Illawarra cider lovers can now drink local with the recent launch of Darkes Cider's Howler.

Darkes Cider is the latest venture from Darkes Forest's Glenbernie Orchard, a farm that has been in the Fahey family for four generations and is now run by Joanne Fahey and her husband, Glenn.

"My husband's grandparents came here in 1939 at the beginning of the Second World War," Joanne said.

"They came here because they wanted to find a safe place for their kids to grow up and they wanted to be away from the city."

Glenn's grandfather began by growing potatoes and then moved on to other vegetables.

"In 1952, they planted their first apple trees. That was because my husband's father, who was then a young man, figured that instead of all this bending and getting a bad back like his father, perhaps trees would be easier and not so bad on your back because you're reaching up, not bending down.

"Little did he know that it's still a lot of hard work, a lot of lifting."

But they stuck with the apple trees, which now cover half of the 64-hectare farm - the other half has stonefruit trees.

The Faheys supply fruit to supermarket chains, which recently tightened up selection processes.

That left the Faheys with more "seconds" - perfectly good apples - and they wanted to find another use for them besides apple juice.

And their cider-loving 20-year-old daughter came up with one.

"Our daughter said, 'Well, we've got this delicious juice product. Mum, Dad can we make cider from that?'

"We said, 'Gee, we don't know. We don't know anything about the cider market. Don't know anything about how to make it. It's something completely out of the realms of our experience'.

"But it sounded like a good idea, so we started researching."

Eventually, they settled on a Sutton Forest winemaker to help them create the cider, though they are considering making cider themselves one day.

"It was about having a go, seeing how it goes. If this goes well, we are interested in putting in our own vats and maybe even our own bottling line."

The Faheys wanted to create a fresh-tasting cider that capitalised on their farm-grown apples. They chose to make the cider with a blend of Jonathan, Delicious, Pink Lady and Granny Smith apples, with the skins left on for some extra tannic sharpness.

"It's made out of fresh product; there's no concentrate added.

"There are a lot of imported ciders that are made from concentrates and those products tend to be extremely sweet.

"We wanted ours to be not so sweet. We wanted it to be more about the freshness of the apple - for that to come through."

As for the name, Howler, that refers to one of their dogs, Stevie, who is known to howl and features on the label.

The cider is mostly available at the orchard and some select restaurants, though they are looking at putting it into a few pubs and bottle shops.

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