Thursday, 31 January 2013

St. Ronan's Methode Traditionelle Apple Cider

St. Ronan’s Methode Traditionelle Apple Cider
From the word go, I wanted this cider. There was just something about it. Maybe it was the cool label, its Yarra Valley roots or its Methode Traditionelle style. I wasn’t sure, but I had to have it – like Torvill had Dean, Hall had Oats or Ren had Stimpy (you catch my drift). The St. Ronan's range consisting of the apple cider and a pear cider (which I will review soon) was born through a venture of mates, Eric Driessen (from a fruit growing family of 25 years) and Troy Jones. The ciders are made at Eric’s farm in Healesville (Yarra Valley), just a short 50km drive south-east of Melbourne.  Apples and pears from the local growers are used in the ciders, but the duo has recently planted an orchard of pears trees on the farm. The ciders are purely and strictly made via Methode Traditionelle, which is highly labour intensive and costly, but well worth the hassle. Fine Champagnes of France are made using this method - or Methode Champenoise, and produce wines of superior structure and finesse. So can this style and method carry over to cider? Well first, what is Methode Tradionelle or MT in the eyes of St. Ronan's?  

The techniques involved in making the St Ronan’s range begins with fermenting the juice with specific yeast strains to make what is called a base cider (or base wine for Champagne). This base cider is bottled into 750mL bottles, fermented for a second time to create carbonation, and then left on its yeast lees for six months (Champagne can sit on its lees for up to three years!).This time on lees imparts creamy textures from the yeast autolysis where yeast cells break down over time. Now for the time consuming bit! The ciders then need to be riddled after ageing, meaning the yeast have to drop down to the neck of the bottle. This is a slow process which carefully forms a yeast plug that can be removed from the bottle. To remove this plug, the St. Ronan's bottles are hand – yes hand!, disgorged where the pressure of the carbonation pushes it out of the bottle. This leaves the cider hazy, but with no clumps of unattractive yeast in the bottle. What’s left is a higher alcohol cider (due to two fermentation stages), which is usually very dry with no sweetness. The ciders are topped up after disgorging with a dosage liqueur - and to quote Troy, “I’ll tell you what it is, but I’d have to kill you”. But basically it’s a sulphured juice solution which helps sweeten up and preserve the product – remember the yeast has been removed, so the sweetness (plus sulphur) will not referment. The ciders are then corked, caged and left sit for another two weeks before release. Troy believes that this method of production produces superior mouth feel, texture and phenolics in their ciders. He also believes the extended time on lees adds more tannins, depth of flavour and structure. These traits are something I look upon very favourably in cider, as this is what real cider is all about. But I’ll let the cider do the talking now!
The colour of the cider gleamed a light pale straw, with a slight haziness. The carbonation in the glass was quite light on, with tiny bubbles and thin bead. This lower level of secondary carbonation suited the style perfectly. The nose was dominated by very fresh and clean characters of green apples, tight citrus, confectionery bananas, peach, apple skin and pear. Lovely leafy notes and freshly cut grass characters combined well with creamy, yeasty notes and earthy tones. A slight touch of green apple aldehyde was also evident. The nose was super focused, tight and very inviting.

The palate offered up exactly what Troy described for this style of cider. There was awesome mid palate astringency, balanced by focused acidity and rounded off dry dosage sweetness. Every component was complimented by super fresh and clean flavours of apple and hints of pear. The back palate was where the real party was. Beautiful creamy notes lingered on top of underlying apple seed bitterness which made its presence felt minutes after the cider was swallowed. There was also some heat from the eight per cent alcohol levels. The mouthful was delectable, being a little fuller and rounder due to the sweetness which was not cloying by a long shot. There was some steely residual sulphur that was quite evident; however, this did not pose any issues. This was a silky smooth palate which was complex, textural, and indeed deep in flavour.     
What can I say? This is a sexy cider which oozes class and sophistication. This is a Champagne drinker’s drink, and would please the most discerning tastes. Lots of attention, hard work and passion have gone into the making of this cider, and it’s evident in the final product. It’s everything you want in an MT cider – fresh, clean and complex. And I was thrilled to see some astringency too. Stored under diam cork, you’ll never see it corked either, which is a big bonus. This is pure and unadulterated Yarra Valley cider. What more could you want? Brilliant.

*This cider won a Bronze at the 2012 Australian Cider Awards in the Bottle Conditioned/Methode Champenoise class.

Producer: St Ronan’s Cider
Country: Australia (Healesville, Yarra Valley)
Alcohol: 8%

Rating: 9 out of 10



  1. Sounds like a real winner! "sexy cider which oozes class and sophistication". NICE!

  2. If you recon the apples good... wait til you try the pear