The title of this piece is going to cause some controversy, so let me start by suggesting the answer in short…no. Cider is cider and wine is wine, and I think it’s important to make that distinction in order to preserve their identities and heritage.
So why write an article on it I hear you say.
Well, there has been a lot of discussion and comparison recently on this subject and I want to explore an element of this movement. I appreciate that the concept I am going to explore is not going to appeal to all producers or consumers, however my opinion (and that of many others) is that the craft cider market could really benefit from the language used by, and lessons learnt from, the wine industry.
I’ll start with a juxtaposition: ‘cider can be wine, but wine cannot be cider’. Why I say that is that if you look at the dictionary definition of cider it’s made from apples. Wine, on the other hand, is “usually” made from grapes, but can be made from any fruit (so long as it’s labelled “fruit”, “British” or “Made”.
So cider has a choice…and that puts it in a unique and profitable position.
What I’m not saying is that cider should go all the way and change itself into apple wine, it would then lose that identity I mentioned at the beginning. What I am suggesting is that cider of a certain quality, with certain process and packaging styles could draw on and potentially increase sales by using similar language and marketing as wine. After all, wine is very similar (process, variety, terroir) and yet commands a much higher price at point of sale. So, why shouldn’t cider have a share of that High-Value Perception? Modern society is very concerned with what they consume as well as the quality and story behind it and cider has a lot to give in that regard. Using similar terms and language could aid migration of wine drinkers over to cider.
Let me just touch on beer, I’ve deliberately not mentioned it very much as I think the image mainstream cider and plenty of craft cider has in the pub is currently closely aligned to beer. It’s served in the same serving size, same glass and in many cases has the same alcohol by volume (abv). Which is not a bad thing or an issue for many cider producers. They are making a drink that they want to be enjoyed like that, and I regularly and happily enjoy a few pints of cider that way myself. However, if you are a cider producer who is making something extra special, that has a story behind it, that you want to stand out and that has taken considerable work and effort, then I think beer is holding you back. If you read about my visit to Hawkes last year, then you saw how they had difficulty with their 750 ml Soul Trader getting sold over the bar with a pint glass, when they had in mind a more shaped and smaller glass and the bottle to be shared and savoured. Education of the landlord was required to facilitate a change.
I’m going to bring in Alistair Morrell here; creator of ‘Cider is Wine’, whom I caught up with for this article to find out more about his ‘not for profit body’ and its aims. In brief it is a consumer-focused initiative that enables producers to use a holographic quality mark that guarantees amongst other requirements, 100% juice content and no pasteurisation. He explained how the purpose is to “raise the profile of high quality ciders”.
Why 100% juice?
“Because if a consumer buys a bottle of wine of the shelf they expect it to be 100% juice (or must) and according to EU regulation, if it’s called just “wine” it will be. So with a mark, consumers are helped to identify a higher quality product”.
He was quick to point out that they are “distinctly not saying below these standards is not a good cider”. Alistair goes on to explain that this concept is a
“long-term project about education, inclusion and engagement that although cider is its own thing, it can change how consumers see it, from a current down beat view to a higher value perception, through using a language customers understand. There are lots of opportunities to reach out to consumers, they can drink it in the same way and at the same occasions as wine, they can have the same discussions about terroir, provenance and characteristics”.
‘Cider is Wine’ already counts Gospel Green, Brännland, Pilton and Locksley amongst its members and that is only set to increase.
Alistair has been in drinks all his working life and currently runs a consultancy helping producers into the UK drinks market. He did some work in this regard for Brännland Cider and had a “realisation that high-quality cider production is like wine, however, the cider industry suffers from an unawareness on how to capitalise on that fact”. He gave the example of how the wine industry has a long history of battling intervention and mentioned pasteurisation, a debate which played out 30 years ago. The industry got together and collectively decided to no longer do it and as a result they sterile filter. As a collective they decided on a process that produced a higher quality product. Cider has the opportunity to do this, as Alistair points out “people want to drink less, but better”.
Our discussion finished with some reflection on how the UK cider industry should be the world leader in quality, not just consumption. You and I know there are a multitude of makers producing high-quality ciders and perries, but the mainstream image is holding it back. If you look at the way the rest of Europe and USA are developing their cider industries, and couple that with a lack of consensus to strive for that high-value perception over here, there is a real risk we could be left behind when it comes to quality. As Alistair pointed out “most of the interesting conversations I’ve had in this regard have been with producers from overseas”.
It feels like we’re in a pivotal moment in the cider resurgence. 2018 saw some huge leaps forward in terms of quality publicity and consumer recognition. The Cider Salon in Bristol highlighted how unique and diverse cider and perry can be and the conversation about ‘fine cider’ really gained traction with high-class products being sold in independent wine shops and restaurants. The Stable restaurants have now launched a fine cider range with Crafty Nectar Trade.
Some producers have embraced the language of wine and profited from it, including some of those I’ve featured on here such as Little Pomona, Downside Perry and Find & Foster. Albert Johnson of Ross-on-Wye Cider and Perry, when talking about their Raison d’être cider that they released in 2018, described it as their “sincere attempt at changing the perception of Cider in the world - bringing it closer to wine, demanding greater respect for the product and packaging it in a way that an 8.4% cider must be sold”.
2019 feels like the year to really cement this opportunity and embrace the comparison with wine to cider’s advantage.