Gurneys’ award-winning cidery spans 70 acres of farmland with panoramic views of Wilsons Promontory National Park and an underground cellar like no other.
If you think cider should be sweet, think again. It might be dry, a little tart, maybe a little sour, tangy, acidic, and sharp with tingling notes of fruit and tannins. All these tastes balance out to a rich, savoury symphony of flavours. That’s real cider and you’ll find it in all its glory 2 hours south-east of Melbourne in Foster at Gurneys.
Gurneys Cider is the product of the Gurnett family and it’s safe to say that cider is part of their DNA.
The family emigrated from Somerset, a renowned cider-making county in South West England.
Lorraine Gurnett says the family yearned for the taste of home, but what they found was at the other end of the spectrum.
'It wasn’t cider as we knew it. It was sweet, like lolly water,' Lorraine says.
So, the search continued.
'We found one company in Victoria, and we thought, perhaps that’s the closest we can get, but it was a long way away, so we started making our own small batch using wild apples.'
It was so good they decided to make more. And, according to Lorraine, it just snowballed from there.
Gurneys is now home to more than 7,000 apple trees, including more than 30 different varieties.
They forage for wild apples locally and have French, English and some American varieties.
They’re also cultivating new Gippsland apples grafted from cuttings from wild trees which can naturally withstand the environment and the changing weather patterns of the region.
'When we find a good tree, we will take grafts and then graft them onto root stock,' Lorraine says.
'The very first one we did was a crab apple from the boundary of our farm near the Great Southern Rail Trail which runs along the bottom of our property.'
'We found this huge, ancient tree full of tiny crab apples, I took a bite out of an apple and spat it out straight away. It was fitting actually because they’re called spitting apples.'
'They might suck the moisture from your tongue but they’re really good for making cider.'
Locals have also come on board – sharing their wild apple findings with Gurneys and contributing to the growing Gippsland orchard varieties.
When it comes to making the cider, the apples are chopped, crushed and then pressed to extract the juice. Yeast is then added, or the juice is left to ferment naturally. The yeast will then absorb the sugar to produce the alcohol.
It’s then bottled, sometimes with a small amount of sugar added to create a secondary in-bottle fermentation, which produces carbon dioxide bubbles – think sparkling ciders. Following fermentation, the cider is aged over months or years to develop their diverse flavours.
The apple pomace which is left-over from the juice extraction is fed to the neighbouring organic free-range pigs.
The underground cellar – The Arches
Gurneys’ underground cider cellar was officially completed less than a year ago and lays claim to the world's largest, dedicated underground cider cellar.
In a tale of transition for the region, the cellar was constructed using 200-tonne concrete panels repurposed from the disused Hazelwood Power Station where they were set to be demolished.
It took a full day and 10 trucks to transport the concrete panels from Hazelwood to Foster, about 70 kilometres away.
They were then buried on site to form the cellar’s structure, with a complex process followed to ensure its longevity for the next 100 years.
Gurneys conducts tours from the cidery on most days which offer a glimpse into how their award-winning ciders are made.
Tours start off in the converted events barn where Gurneys first started making cider – the remnants of which have nicely stained the concrete surface of the barn due to the rich acidity of the natural apple juices.
You’ll then move onto the new production facility to see the orchard to glass process.
From there, you’ll descend through the impressive wooden arches into the main underground cellar which is lined with rows of huge Italian oak barrels, softly lit, where the cider is left to age and ferment to the sounds of Tibetan chants.
There, you’ll experience a tasting experience of some of Gurneys’ exclusive limited release ciders as well as their 7-year-old apple brandy.
The benefit of storing cider underground is the constant, stable temperature, which is a big contributor to Gurneys’ aim to become 100% carbon neutral.
'We think we’re almost there. We’ve installed a whole new array of solar panels and two batteries and the good thing about cider is that it’s a carbon neutral product. The process doesn’t involve heating or cooling unless we’re pasteurising something and most of our products are not pasteurised,' Lorraine says.
The family has also planted thousands of natives and even established windbreaks on the property as well as wildlife corridors. It speaks to their connection to Foster and their dedication to creating something special and sustainable that embraces the natural environment in South Gippsland.
What awaits you at Gurneys is a sensory cider adventure and an inside glimpse into the passion, craft and skill that goes into making every single bottle.
For more information, visit Gurneys.