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The Cider Trail – Part 1 Willie Smiths

Just a random farm gate made of scrap timber and rusted barbed wire at Willie Smith's Apple Shed, but it embodies some traditional country values such as thrift,  as well as patience, creativity and time

This was going to be about three of our cider makers,  but after searching in vain for one of them  - “The Lost Pippin” out the back of Richmond, it turned out not to be open to the public, so this is it for today. There are at least two more here in the south which I have yet to visit, so consider this a work in progress.

The Cider Trail came to my notice while I was in the Huon Valley a couple of weeks ago and lingered a while at Willie Smith’s Apple Shed.  Cider -making seems entirely appropriate for a state which used to be known as the Apple Isle and it also suits the mellowness of the season. Black -faced sheep browse in empty paddocks, the harvest is in, and though a few golden leaves still cling bravely to the vines in vineyards, you can see their bare bones showing through. It reminds me that beyond the cities, nature’s schedules still hold sway.  

Unassuming exterior of the Apple Shed
The cider establishments were a homelier, more convivial affair than the vineyards, where I felt I should have dressed. Since you can buy the product almost anywhere – at a pub, at an anonymous bottle shop or in some identical supermarket which could just as well be in Cairns or Sydney, it’s what I go for really – atmosphere, personality, friendliness. It's also nice to know what's behind the label. Cider belongs here, among the orchards, among the hop fields, among the black -faced sheep.  I also like the earthy, slightly pagan aspect which dates back to pre -history and is celebrated  with wassailing  (singing to the apple trees to ensure an abundant harvest) in the winter festival at Willie Smith’s.

The interior is simple but stylish

At Willie Smith’s, my first port of call was the apple museum. Some 300 apple varieties are on display here including the elusive Geeveston Fanny and a tiny little green one which I’d seen here and there in Hobart but nowhere else – an apple called Grandmere.  The museum tells the story of the apple industry in Tasmania through the lives of several generations of the Smith Family. There are family photos, memorabilia and equipment.  The museum  recalls why Tasmania was called the Apple Isle,  how until the early 1980’s there were over 1000 apple orchards here, producing 8 million apples a year, of which 7 million were sent to Europe. After Britain’s entry into the European Common Market, only three hundred orchards remained including the Smith family's.  I wonder if the Apple Isle will rise again post Brexit, or have we already subdivided all that land? 

Some of the 300 or so apple varieties grown in the Huon.
The famous Geeveston Fanny

Who can forget those old apple labels

The premises, inside one of the original apple sheds are cosy but classy and there’s a big outdoor area with plenty of heating for major events such as the annual winter festival. There is also live music on most Friday nights.Specialities on the menu include pear pistachio tart and fig and apple pudding for a modest $7.  There is also a distillery here, though you have to book a tour to see it.  There’s a little bit of interest everywhere, even in the toilets. I don’t often wax lyrical about toilets but these did catch my eye. Each one was decorated with bits of memorabilia, with just a hint of both social and environmental values – such as the “Thank you” brand toilet soap whose purchase guarantees donation of an equal amount to charity. This reflects a mindset and an attention to detail which I enjoyed as much as the cider.

The apple theme extends to the food

Spirited -Apple brandy is also made here, but you have to do the tour to appreciate it  more closely

Even the littlest room has its charms