PUBLISHED: 12:38 24 September 2013 | UPDATED: 11:22 27 September 2013
Virtual Orchard produces award-winning ciders, apple juice, apple brandy and mead using locally
sourced fruit and honey at their canal-side cidery in Old Wolverton, North Buckinghamshire
In 2009 an idea of using apples from private gardens, and taking the fruit (that might otherwise be left to rot) to make delicious real cider, finally became a reality, and the concept of the virtual orchard was born. Initially the cider was intended for personal consumption however, as news spread, it was clear that it would be unfair not to let the cider be enjoyed more widely. In 2010 that first cider, Hard Core, was launched and in 2011 was awarded the prestigious CAMRA (Campaign for Real Ale) Gold Medal, Champion Cider of Britain.
Since those early days the Virtual Orchard has grown considerably with almost 80 orchards, ranging from a single tree to an orchard of 90 trees, now supplying fruit to go into the Hard Core cider (typically in exchange for cider). All of the fruit is carefully hand-picked, crushed and pressed, and then allowed to cold ferment over the winter months using only wild yeasts and natural sugars. The end result is a refreshing cider reflecting the unique characteristics of the North Buckinghamshire soils and climate.
Virtual Orchard is very much a family business with Laurence and his wife Hannah, daughters Megan and Rosie, and Hannah’s parents (Carol and Tony) mucking in. Everything from picking and pressing to bottling and labelling is done by hand, with the process of converting the apples to juice taking place in the beautiful setting of their new Cidery alongside the Grand Union Canal in Old Wolverton, Milton Keynes.
In 2012 Laurence decided to transition Virtual Orchard from hobby to full-time vocation and, after striking up a partnership with a large nearby orchard, was able to dramatically increase production thus enabling him to extend the range of ciders. There are currently 6 ciders (some seasonal) in the Virtual Orchard portfolio: the original Hard Core, which is still made only using apples from private gardens, as well as others made from single variety apples or special blends. 2012 also saw the launch of an apple brandy and “proper” cloudy apple juice, with a rather special Mead due to be launched this autumn.
Wherever possible Virtual Orchard likes to work closely with other local companies, schools and community groups and have been known on occasion to exchange cider for goods and services. One key partnership is with The Parks Trust, Milton Keynes where Laurence jointly manages an old cider apple orchard and more recently, has planted a 200 tree Perry pear orchard on the site of an old vineyard right in the heart of Milton Keynes. Growing pears is a slow business though, and it will be another 3 years before the trees produce enough fruit to make Perry.
Virtual Orchard products can be found at various locations around Buckinghamshire from the National Trust at Stowe, to local farm shops, pubs, wine merchants, as well as local events and festivals. The Cidery will also be open from September and all are welcome to come and visit to see the fruit being pressed, sample the juice, or even swap your own apples for bottles of cider!
For more information please contact Laurence on 07901 800182, email firstname.lastname@example.org, go to www.virtualorchard.co.uk, www.facebook.com/virtualorchard or follow on Twitter @VirtualOrchard