It was a brisk, warm and sunny late October day in Warsaw when Tomasz from Cydr Ignaców picked me up and drove me out of Warsaw to Ignaców, where the cidery is based. Ignaców is a tiny village located approx. 60km south of Warsaw in the heart of Grojec County, the EU’s largest apple growing region. Interestingly, apples and other fruits have been grown here since the middle ages. On the way to Grojec County, we drove through countless orchards of apple and cherry trees. But most grown apple varieties are eaters and cookers, not suitable for cider making. Despite this fact, Marcin, who is a 4th generation apple grower and Tomasz’s partner at Cydr Ignaców, tracked an old, for local standards practically ancient, orchard with old apple varieties. These apples are used today to make Cydr Ignaców. But how it all began?
Cydr Ignaców is the first official Polish cider producer, as I mentioned in one of my earlier reviews on ciders created by Tomasz Porowski (Czarny Ignac 2015 and Renety Zlota i Szara 2016). Tomasz is a lawyer by profession, so his background has nothing to do with cider making. But it surely helped him with the extremely complicated Polish regulations and formal procedures so he could set up the first Polish cidery in 2011. Tomasz didn’t learn everything about cidermaking by himself. He approached a few cidermakers in the UK. Three great cider makers replied back and offered to share their cider related knowledge and experience, Michael of Ross on Wye, Julian of Burrow Hill Cider and Tom of Oliver’s Cider. With a bunch of new valuable information, Tomasz was almost ready to introduce cider to Polish consumers. Almost. As back then he had no access to good quality fruit suitable for cider. A breakthrough came when Tomasz met Marcin through mutual friends. And, Marcin found the old orchard with old apple varieties that I already mentioned earlier.
Tomasz gave me a tour around the orchards and cider making facilities. Apples used for Cydr Ignaców come from an old and forgotten apple orchard where you will find old apple varieties such as Kosztela (a very old Polish variety dating back to 17th century), Boskoop, Boiken, Antonovka and many different wild apples that are small, very bitter, aromatic and simply glorious. Each apple coming from a wild apple tree had a different and unique taste profile. I would even say that I enjoyed them more than the cider apples from Normandy. The fruit was much smaller, the taste more concentrated, more bitter and acidic. Each bite was like a taste explosion! Perfect fruit for cider! Interestingly, in the orchard, there is even an apple variety (not wild) that can’t be identified even by the oldest generation of apple growers living in Ignaców. So Tomasz simply named this apple Sphinx. In addition, due to the warm and long summer, some late apple varieties were harvested this year for the first time as they actually finally ripened. So this year’s vintage at Cydr Ignaców is expected to be amazing as well. As I wandered through this orchard, I was stunned. I could get the taste of almost all varieties and could see a great potential in the fruit.
As we drove back through other orchards to the cidery, I noticed a lot of good fruit simply lying on the ground beneath the tree and rotting. All were large, shiny and red eating apples. This is because apple prices reached bottom this year in Poland and harvesting simply didn’t pay off. It was a very sad view. Also, I’ve learned from Tomasz that it is a challenge to find apple trees here that are older than 12 years as apple growers rip the trees out once they turn 12. This is because older apple trees bear much less fruit and are not profitable enough for the grower.
When we reached the cidery we entered a rather chilly, large fermentation room filled with various fermenting tanks with cider beautifully bubbling. The sound of bubbles going through airlock has something peaceful in it. Don’t you think? Since apple trees bore lots of fruit this year giving much juice, it is likely that Tomasz and Marcin will exceed the production limit of 10.000 litres set by Polish Authorities (imagine that Mayador in Asturias makes 7.5mln litres annually!). If you are looking for an example of how stupid regulations can negatively impact cider production, just look at Poland.
Tomasz let me have a taste of ciders that weren’t released yet. One cider was a blend of Dabinett and Michelin, two English and French, respectively cider apple varieties that were planted in Ignaców a few years ago. It was a dry, very aromatic cider, clear (although it came straight out of a glass carboy) and very drinkable. Since it was still it tasted like a great quality wine. I loved it. The second cider was ice cider, a blend of few vintages that was deliberately oxidised giving a nutty flavour with notes of distant nail polish remover and raspberries. Almost tasting like a sherry mixed with ice cider. The level of sweetness was just right. God, I could use a glass now of Tomasz’s ice cider to warm up.
At the end of the tour, we visited a company that presses the juice for Cydr Ignaców Tomasz and Marcin don’t press apples on their own as they don’t have the capacity. Instead, they contract a local company offering apple pressing services. It doesn’t give them control over the pressing process but at the current stage, there is nothing else that cone be done.
During this cider tour, I could sense Tomasz’s undoubted passion for cider as all he does and says is related to cider. But I also felt a sort of despair in his voice due to a long ongoing battle against the Polish regulations or Polish restaurants that set high prices for a bottle of cider so the consumer picks a bottle of wine instead, etc. In my view, with such apples like the wild apples that I tried in the orchards of Cydr Ignaców, Polish cider has a huge potential. But the growth and expansion of Polish cider are slowed down by stupid local laws and regulations and the mindset of many restaurant owners.
I wish Tomasz and Marcin all the best, you are both doing a great job and you showed many times that you are unstoppable pioneers fighting all possible hurdles in the Polish market.
For those of you who are reading this, next time you’re visiting Poland look out for products created by Cydr Ignacow. I promise you won’t regret it. Soon I will post tasting notes for ciders that were passed to me by Tomasz so stay tuned!