We are super passionate on this subject, and following is an article from New Zealand's Orchardist Magazine where Mark talks about why we only use 100% fruit (no water, no concentrate, no flavourings), and why we think all New Zealand producers should to!
Cider should be pure fruit without any added water and if Mark McGill from the boutique Nelson cidery, Abel Methode Cider, is successful with his lobbying, that could well become a regulation for the fermented fruit.
In a corner of a winery in Nelson's Moutere hills, Mark and his wife, Sophie, use the acidity, flavours and aroma of apples such as Cox's Orange and Sturmer to produce a cider that was named a finalist in this year's New Zealand Food Awards.
It's a bone-dry cider which means the natural fruit sugar is turned into alcohol and all the flavours of the fruit pulp and skins have been captured in the end product. No water is added and Mark says that should be the case with anything labelled cider, in the same way wine has this regulation.
At this stage, the cidery is a fledgling business that produced 4,500 litres of cider for the 2017 vintage, but Mark has a big vision for the industry as a whole. Because though the country produces about 17 million litres of cider a year, about 13 million litres of that is water, he says.
In France and Germany, cider is made from pure fruit just like wine, while Mark says many other countries have regulations that govern the ingredients. Whereas in New Zealand, cider comes under the fruit wine banner where water, juice concentrate and other flavours can be added, with no requirement to list ingredients. Mark points to the New Zealand wine industry where wine only needed to be 80% from grapes until 1983 and then regulations were introduced that required wine to be 100% from grapes.
"So that's my goal with cider. Eliminating water is the biggest thing for me - most people drinking cider think they're drinking fermented apple juice, but they are mostly drinking water.
"The industry can't keep on making a cheap commodity that is a watered down product because it doesn't do anything for brand New Zealand."
Adding water increases volume and enables producers to avoid a higher excise tax because it lowers the alcohol level to less than 6% which is where the higher tax kicks in. Mark says fruit growers would also benefit if less water went into ciders as more fruit would be used and growers would make better margins.
For the former wine maker, pure fruit cider is the only way to go. Both Mark and Sophie grew up surrounded by vineyards and wine - Mark in the family's Wairarapa vineyard and Sophie amid Marlborough's vines where her father is a winemaker. Mark went on to study winemaking before taking up winemaking roles overseas and back in New Zealand, before meeting Sophie through work in Australia.
It was during their 10-year stint in Melbourne, that they began experimenting with cider making because most of the ciders on the market were too sweet. Initially they plucked apples from a tree in their garden, put them through the kitchen blender and fermented the juice to make about 20 litres of cider - pretty similar to the process used for white wine. Trials followed with other varieties to find the best flavours and acidity; blending them to achieve the best result. Throughout the process, they worked with pure fruit.
"There's a big difference between the sweetness and flavour from fruit versus sugar and if you can get fruit sweetness without sugar sweetness, it's a healthier option."
A young family brought them back to New Zealand where they headed to the "world renowned apple and pear" region, Nelson, to make cider. Some orchardists allow them to pick the fruit themselves which means they can get the full-flavoured, tree-ripened fruit and they also buy in freshly-harvested fruit. After trialling numerous varieties, they have found the modern apple varieties lack flavour for a good cider and prefer heritage varieties such as Cox's Orange Pippin and Sturmer Pippin, plus true cider varieties such as Gravenstein and Kingston Black which are all used in blends.
"I'm more of a fan of blending because I think you get a better product. And there's a fundamental difference in the way we make our cider. Normally you would put apple through a mill into a press and press it to get the juice, whereas we mill straight into the tank - the same as you do for red wine. We press at the end of fermentation because a lot of the flavour of apples and pears is in the skin. It's just more flavour, more aroma and more intensity. Apples and pears have quite delicate flavours, so that's the way of extracting more flavour."
Every season will provide different flavours - 2016 was a warmer year, a good summer, which ripened the fruit perfectly and provided those intense, tree-ripened flavours. Last year was cooler and the later-season apples struggled to ripen, so that also affects flavours. Mark never measures sugar levels or other aspects of the fruit prior to harvest and relies purely on the taste of the apples.
Once the fermenting cider reaches the bottling stage, a little sugar, plus organic yeast is added in a process similar to champagne. The yeast consumes the sugar and produces a little more alcohol, but more importantly, carbon dioxide for natural bubbles.
It's an expensive way to produce cider and Mark refers to it as a labour of love. A tonne of fruit produces just 500 litres of cider compared with about 800 litres in most proper commercial cideries. But they like the result and being a finalist in the food awards proved they have a product others like as well.
Marketing has been a complex issue, Mark says, with social media now a standard avenue to lift the profile of a product. Twitter, Instagram and Facebook is one way of telling people about their cider and it's all about getting exposure for their product. Mark was invited to join a panel at the New Zealand AgriFood Investment Week in Palmerston North earlier this year to talk about agrifood and potential for New Zealand. That led to someone suggesting they enter the food award, which in turn led to being nominated as a finalist.
Increasing exposure means their Abel Methode Cider can now be found in restaurants, cafes, luxury lodges and retail outlets throughout New Zealand and also in Australia.
Part of Mark's vision for the New Zealand cider industry is to get cider out of the beer fridge and its own section on the menu. And if he successfully steers the cider industry toward pure fruit, without water, he is hopeful Nelson's sunshine and intense fruit flavours could become synonymous with great cider.
"Cider could be to Nelson what sauvignon blanc is to Marlborough," he suggests.
Mark & Sophie make cider in the sunny Tasman region at the top of New Zealand's South Island.