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Nuthurst Orchards: The Cider Providers

Chesca Scanlon at Nuthurst Orchards

Published 1st November 2020

Tom and Chesca Scanlon founded their own cider business, Nuthurst Orchard, after finding an ideal plot while on a tandem bicycle ride. Since then, they’ve been perfecting the art of combining the distinctive tastes of English and French apples. Tom explains how it all came to fruition...

In Tandem...

We have lived in Horsham for 29 years, although I'm originally from Glasgow. We met in Brighton while both studying Medicine. I continue to do GP work and Chesca worked as a psychiatrist. Cider is something we turned to towards the end of our careers! 

Chesca’s great-aunt passed away and left a little bit of money. We thought about paying off the mortgage, but had this dream of buying a little plot and planting an orchard, as we both enjoy cider and have previously grown fruit on an allotment patch. 

We love to cycle and one day, were cycling near Nuthurst on a tandem bike when we came across pasture land for sale. It was ideal, as the field was sloped and south facing. Orchards had been on the site before and flourished, as the soil has good levels of iron and other nutrients. So, we bought the plot in 2009.

We were fortunate to meet a Bolney farmer, Chris Hewings, who gave us invaluable tips on preparing the land for planting 300 trees. He triple-ploughed the field to help the trees grow properly. It worked, and five years later we started producing small amounts of cider for friends and family.

I prefer French cider, whereas Chesca prefers English flavours. So, we decided to combine the fruitiness of France with the bite of the English. Getting the balance perfect isn’t easy. Sharp varieties give high acidity, so you need sweet varieties that are lower in acidity too. For dryness and body, you need tannins (apple stems, seeds and skin) as well. There’s a lot to think about! 

A French friend helped us  source apple trees from Normandy. We trained at the Cider & Perry Academy in Gloucestershire and spent holiday time at a French cider farm to gave us some ideas. The French tend to prefer a more natural process, using minimal sulphites (which kills the natural yeast in apple juice) and that approach suited us. 

We grow six apples from France including Binet Rouge, Petit Jaune, Saint-Martin, Michelin, Bisquet and Bedan. English varieties include Harry Masters Jersey, Black Dabinett, Kingston Black, Brown’s and Stoke Red. The quantities differ though, so we have a lot more English cider apples than French. We also grow dessert apples that can be added if the cider needs sweetening. 

Making cider can be physical work, shaking trees and carrying crates around. Pressing hundreds of litres of juice is hard work too. We have friends and family who help, especially if the weather is nice. On a beautiful autumn day, you can almost feel the warm embrace of the trees around you, which is something quite special. 

One of the biggest challenges is keeping animals at bay. Deer nibble the saplings and badgers love apples, particularly Bisquet! They knock against trees to get them to drop! But our most regular visitor is a wren which nests in our barn every year, always in a different spot. She’s nested in the tractor and even in hats hanging on pegs. Once, Chesca went to put on a peaked cap and four wren fledglings appeared! 

The best part of the job is tasting. We have fun adjusting the cider until it’s right. It’s one third heart, one third science and one third luck! All we want is for people to like it and most do. We always listen to feedback though and because of the responses we’ve had, this year’s batch will be drier. 

What's in a Name

We didn’t think long and hard about the name. As we are on the road to the village, Nuthurst Orchard made sense. We started by selling small amounts at the Wisborough Green Fair and also sold mulled cider at the Horsham Christmas Market. But for a while, we weren’t producing enough to make bottling cost effective. When we did bottle the cider, we needed a label. Our son Sean is quite creative and came up with the design.

The label features a painting by Hugo van der Goes, a renowned 15th century Flemish artist. We had an idea based on the Garden of Eden, portraying an idyllic place along with the temptation of eating an apple. To make it contemporary, we adapted the image! Francesca can be seen in the background, driving a tractor!

Currently, we produce between 2000 - 3000 litres a year. The two of us couldn’t cope with much more, although the trees will produce more as they grow. We want to diversify and offer a couple of ciders when we have the quantity, but still keep the workload manageable. It’s important for us to enjoy the experience, rather than milk it. 
We supply several farm shops and garden centres, including Crates Local and New Street Butchers (Horsham) and Jeremy’s Two (Cowfold). It’s also sold at Leonardslee and pubs including The Black Horse, White Horse, The Kings Arms and The Plough. 

We grow plums, Perry pears and cherries too. We did have blueberries too, but a virus attacked the plants. Initially, we didn't cover the cherries with a net. They were lovely when they blossomed and then suddenly, they were gone. Birds had eaten the lot! After that, we covered them up and now sell cherries to farm shops. We were told that Britain dosn’t produce enough cherries, so selling them wouldn’t be a problem. That has proved to be true. This year, we produced about 500 litres from our pear trees and eventually hope to have enough to bottle commercially.  

During lockdown, the orchard kept us sane. Being able to come here and make cider was an escape from what’s happened. We also buy into the local produce idea very strongly and take great satisfaction in being even a small part of that.

To contact Nuthurst Orchard, email:tomjohnscanlon@hotmail.co.uk