The Oldfields Story
Oldfields Cider is produced by us, The Thompson family, on our 250-acre farm Oldfields, nestled here in the heart of the Teme Valley, Worcestershire. We took this place on in 1960 when it was a hilly, scrub filled smallholding that one supportive neighbour at the time said would ‘never make a farm’. But Jim, the father of current Oldfields custodian Geoff, was undeterred and moved his family in, along with a creaking ancient cider press and apple scratter he’d not long bought from an old boy in Cowsden. And while we were unable to do anything about the hills, over the next few decades those scrubby Broom filled banks were transformed into a thriving verdant farm and put to good use. Something else that was put to good use was that fateful apple press. Every year since 1960 we have made cider. For many years, this was done with that very same press extracting juice that was then transferred a bucket full at a time into old whiskey barrels, for our own consumption and that of our neighbours and friends. Those same neighbours always made time to come along and pitch in on pressing day to secure their summer cider ration.
Whilst Jim’s cider was a sought-after commodity on bonfire nights and at other local celebrations, it came under increased demand during the busy harvest seasons at Oldfields, when teams of burly workers would slake their thirsts after a day of hauling bales or shearing sheep and particularly throughout the Hop harvest. That’s right, for many years the fuel driving the beer industry was cider! You’re welcome, brewers.
As charming as this method of production is though it was far too antiquated to produce more than a couple of barrels a year so in 2013 when we decided to begin producing Oldfields Cider commercially, our fine old press took a well-deserved retirement. Today, the farm has all new purpose-built cider pressing and packing facilities. Our sheds are filled with state-of-the-art equipment including a whopping Voran belt press that whilst decidedly less characterful, nonetheless does a far more thorough and time-efficient job.
The Oldfields Approach
The Oldfields' approach to farming, cider making and life, in general, can be boiled down into a simple maxim. Whatever you’re doing, put in the graft and do it right. For nearly 40 years we grew hops, a fickle crop that requires an inordinate degree of attention to detail. They’re prone to disease and pests, incredibly vulnerable to drought and in the space of a week can go from perfectly ripe to commercially unviable. You need to be amongst your hops continuously through the summertime assessing their needs and reacting accordingly. It’s a huge burden that leaves little time for anything else but the skills we developed during our tenure as hop farmers put us in good stead for the rest of our farming life. That instinctual recognition of the first signs of hop wilt is the same instinct that alerts you to the first signs of sickness in a ewe or the first notes of an off flavour in a batch of cider. You don’t learn these skills overnight, they come from years of dedication.
But a keen eye isn’t going to harvest your hops. It’s fair to say that without the help of the community around us we could have never brought all our hops in. Back in our hopping days, we employed half the village come September and though cider making doesn't have the same staffing requirements we haven't forgotten that we are a part of our village. We’re rightfully proud to live in Frith Common and we hope they're proud to have us too. Never underestimate the importance of getting on with your neighbours. It’s the reason why back in the day we always held a village bonfire party in November and why today we feel the need to put on our parlour pub nights, summer parties and wassails in place of those gone but not forgotten Friday nights in the local pubs that are all now sadly closed.
‘Put in the graft and do it right.’ It’s why we hand prune our bajillion apple trees. It’s why we’ve planted and renewed almost a mile of native hedgerows around the farm. It’s why we don’t use concentrates in our cider (our apples testify to our hard work). And it’s why we took the decision to do every part of the cider-making process, from planting the trees to packing the bottles, in house. That way we can cast that meticulous eye for detail across all aspects of our products, resulting in the perfect cider!