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Wobblegate Fruit Juices

Tom with Wobblegate juices

Published 5th November 2017

When Wobblegate was launched in 2009, it turned heads for its bold pink and yellow branding. But there was much more to this range of fruit juice than clever marketing and a host of awards are testament to its natural goodness. We visited Old Mill Farm in Bolney to find out more about Wobblegate...

A Frail Fruit Industry
Having finished university, Tom Stevens was looking forsomething that he could do on the family’s Old Mill Farm. Orchards at the farm date back to the 1930s and Tom’s father, Glyn, grew apples and soft fruits until the mid-1990s. “The apple industry died in this country at that time,” said Tom. “Advancement in storing techniques meant that major retailers were importing fruit. It meant the price was driven down and we were losing money, so had to consider other ways to generate revenue.” Consequently, Old Mill Farm established a farm shop and café, whilst animals ensured children were entertained. This ended when Glyn retired, but with a gentle resurgence in the UK’s apple industry, Tom considered using the orchards to launch a business of his own.

Reviving the Orchard
Cider was one tempting option, as it had been made on the farm in small quantities for generations. But it was simpler to start with apple juice. “It is complicated to produce an alcoholic drink because of the legislation involved,” said Tom. “Also, you can pick apples and produce fruit juice in a very short amount of time, whereas there is a fermenting process with cider that takes a long time.” With the orchard having been left to its own devices for the best part of a decade, many of the 5,500 trees needed to be managed and pruned. But, in 2008 and with the help and support from his dad, Tom managed to produce several hundred bottles of juice with Old Mill Farm branding. They were sold in the re-opened farm shop. The following year, the juice was branded as Wobblegate.

The Wobbly Gate
The question of what to name the business was easily answered. About 150 years ago, different parts of the farm were given names, to make them easier for workers to identify. One area happened to have a wobbly gate!The distinctive pink and yellow branding of Wobblegate’s fruit juice owed less to tradition. “I decided to give the product bright branding, as I have never considered apple juice to be a snobby drink,” said Tom. “When it came to locally produced apple juice, it was normally put in green bottles with very boring labels. You would see them on the bottom shelf at farm shops and they were bottles you might buy grandma for Christmas. I always found that sad, as we grow apples in this country, not oranges. So, our mission is to see apple juice become the breakfast juice of choice. With that in mind, we chose bright colours and made it friendly and exciting for children. Apple juice is not pretentious!”

A Clear Example
One of the bravest decisions that Wobblegate took was to sell its apple juice in clear bottles. The colour of the juice can alter even with apples from the same tree, depending on many factors. In some bottles, the juice may be clear, whilst cloudy in others. Sometimes, the juice may have a tinge of pink, whilst others have a hint of yellow. “We wanted to show the natural process of the juice, rather than hide it inside a green bottle,” said Tom. “Even two batches of the same variety of apple, picked on the same day, can produce a different effect. That’s because the apples may come from different parts of the orchard. The effect could come down to isolated rainfall or whether it’s a shaded spot. Our bottles are educational, as they show what apple juice is and what happens in small batch apple production.”

Pressing Matters
For the first couple of years, Wobblegate juices were sold at markets and events including The Big Nibble in Horsham. Then, in 2011, the business reached out to trade, launching a range of 250ml bottles alongside the range of 750ml bottles. Outlets including Hutching’s Butchers in Partridge Green, Jeremy's at Borde Hill Gardens, South Lodge Hotel and The Crabtree started selling Wobblegate, as did Small Batch Coffee Roasters in Brighton. As demand increased, so did pressure on the staff, who were working with a traditional rack and cloth press built for small scale production. “We were working 14 hour days, grading the apples into buckets and then pressing them,” said Tom. “Even still, we were only producing 800 litres of juice each day and then we had to spend another day bottling. We weren’t coping particularly well until we were able to buy new equipment with support from DEFRA, which allows us to press about 2,500 litres a day. Now we can keep up with demand.”

Core Market
There is 15 eating and cooking apple varieties grown on the farm. The majority are Cox and Bramleys, whilst other include Spartan, Fiesta, Jonagold, James Grieve, Discovery, Lord Derby, Newton Wonder and Grenadier.Wobblegate also brings in apples from other Sussex farms when required to produce its expanding range. Popular products include Crushed Apple, Apple & Pear, Apple & Raspberry and Apple & Elderflower. Other combinations are Apple & Blueberry, Apple & Rhubarb and Squeezed Breakfast Juice, which includes oranges. “We haven’t been able to continue purely on the fruit that we grow here, so we work with other Sussex farms,” said Tom. “We have our ‘Core’ range and then our WG1 range made with single varieties. We’d like to grow more fruits in the future, but that requires time and investment and we’re not yet big enough to cope with that. Our immediate priority is to ensure that our orchards are as productive as possible and perhaps we’ll grow soft fruits and more adventurous varieties of apple in the future.”

A Wobbly Problem
Two years ago, Tom’s brother-in-law Chris Blin-Stoyle joined the business and he was swiftly followed by Pete Hazell. Pete is responsible for producing the distinctive branding, whilst Chris is largely responsible for production. Tom is usually the one who identifies opportunities in the marketplace. By bringing different skills to the table, Wobblegate continues to expand. Having based its success around fruit juices initially, the farm is again producing cider. Wobblegate started producing three ciders in 2012, but opted to change the name of its alcoholic range to The Wobbly Press, so it wouldn’t have a detrimental impact on the juices. “Our fruit juice is known for its bright colours,” said Chris. “We weren’t comfortable using the same branding with our ciders, as it might appeal to children. Wobblegate fruit juices have always been marketed as being natural with no added sugar, which also limited what we could do with the cider. So, Wobblegate cider became Wobbly Press Cider with a different look. It wasn’t an easy decision, as we’d built up a following and had won a CAMRA award, but we needed to act before it was too late. We’ve been able to more experimental and make The Wobbly Press its own brand.”

The Cider Range
With labels drawn up by a local tattoo artist, the cider’s branding is far removed from the Wobblegate look, although created from the same orchard.The range includes The Boxer, a strong, West Country-style cider. The Marauder is a sweet apple cider whilst The Dame has a distinct strawberry flavour. Brighton Rocks is a 4.5% medium cider and Pink is made with fresh blackcurrant. “All our ciders are made with apples grown on the farm,” said Chris. “English cider is such a traditional product and most ciders are made in either a heady West Country style or a clear, crisp style with high sugar content. I hope we are doing something that is different.”The Wobblegate team is also behind a range of canned and bottled cider called Eden. Coming in two flavours – apple and four berries – Eden adopts some of the fruit juice’s distinctive branding. Eden was launched earlier this year and is already available in 50 Marks & Spencer stores. Eden is different to The Wobbly Press range, as it has a fruity, sweet taste and appeals to a different type of drinker,” said Chris. “We’re seeing a growing trend for canned ciders, with the market growing for canned craft beers too. Next spring, Eden will be available on keg too, so we hope to see it in pubs.”

The Cider Range
As well as fighting for pump position, Wobblegate has a small shop on the farm, called Whistle & Dixie. In it, visitors can buy fruit juices and ciders, as well as a small range from other local food and drink producers. It is hoped that a string of award nominations will help further spread word of the brand. Wobblegate was shortlisted as Sussex drink producer of the year at the Sussex Food and Drink Awards 2018, won by Nyetimber vineyard. Eden is shortlisted for a Quality Drinks Award, with winners of the national competition announced at a ceremony at Grosvenor House Hotel on 9 November. “We have won a Quality Drinks Award with two products already,” said Tom. “The judges consider every aspect of the product, from design through to taste, and the awards are attended by major retailers, so it’ll raise our profile considerably if we were to win for a third time.”

Wobblegate drinks can be bought at several local farm shops or you can visit www.wobblegate.co.uk For more on the Eden range visit https://edenfruitciders.com/home.html