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Value adding on fruit farms

Lox, stock and barrel
Loxtonia cider of Ceres’ story by Gerrit Rautenbach.

“The fact that we started making cider is because we’ve got sun in South Africa. An abundance of sun. Resulting in a high percentage of sunburn and related defects. As well as wind blemishes to boot. We can’t get away with that 30% of Class 3 apples. It is what it is,” so does Larry Witfield, owner of Loxtonia farm and super cider maker begins his story. Traditionally most farms send that 30% to the juice factory. Larry couldn’t live with just that.

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Larry Witfield, owner of Loxtonia farm and cider maker. 

Travelling some of the world’s biggest apple-producing countries like Poland and going across to Western Europe you see a lot of cider plants, even in the Americas. Australia and New Zealand are even converting some wine cellars into cider. The UK has a culinary mecca of cider. In some places, they have been producing cider for as long as 250 years. (Remember Loxtonia started cider in 2018.)

When it came to making cider at Loxtonia, they had to be very careful—being different to the mainstream ciders in SA. It took Larry five years to develop the crispy apple formula, getting the blending and the yeast just right. “I wanted to bring a proper cider to this country. We are an uneducated cider-drinking nation, but we’re getting educated by the youth. They are asking for a lot more honesty in a bottle,” he says. And when you look at Loxton’s slogan, “Orchard to Bottle”, you understand it better. No pulp, no juice, no concentrate here. Apart from their crispy apple flagship, they offer a range of eight unique ciders, including Easy Apple, a non-alcoholic cider borne out of Covid lockdown. All eight of them with no preservatives are vegan-friendly and of course gluten-free (which beer is not). At present they are producing cider from around 15% (half) of the 30% Class 3 apples, but at the rate, they’re going, this will expand in the near future.

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Loxtonia’s signature apple cider. 

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“Ceres has the best apples in the country. Therefore, my big push is for Ceres to become the best cider-producing region in the country, putting us on the world map. It’s not just about adding value to Loxtonia, but also to Ceres and overall to cider in this country. That’s my task at hand at the moment,” Larry explains. He seems to be on the right track, seeing that, even with his first production in 2018, which he took to the Cape Town Beer Fest where it won Best Cider.

Probably an even better story about adding value to the family of Loxtonia happened in and around the Easter period of 2020. Larry and Jill’s daughter, Alexandra, or Alex as they call her, was going to get married over the Easter weekend when the very unwelcomed lockdown cancelled the wedding.

“But my head started spinning when Chris asked me for her hand in marriage. No, not because of him, because of the prices of champagnes and decent MCC’s. So I decided to make a good MTC or Méthode  Traditionelle Cidre which is a cider with the second fermentation in the bottle. I got some good recipes travelling before to France, Italy and even Belgium.”

Making this MTC named Alexandra, after the bride-to-be, was quite a challenge. She is employed at Loxtonia and while she was up and down, in and out of the cellar and offices, everybody had to play their role, keeping the bottles, labels, and the whole process a secret. Mum’s the word about this MTC. They got it absolutely right. It lay for 18 months, they riddled, labelled and did everything else without her finding anything out.

“After the tears of the lockdown cancelling her wedding, I said to her on the Wednesday that I’d like to show her what we have prepared for the wedding. I presented to her the Alexandra Blush and Brut. Blush because Rosé is reserved for the wine industry.”

After this revelation, there were more tears, but happy tears this time. About a week later, Alex talked to him about the London international cider awards. So she convinced him to send six bottles of the MTC while they were at it. About two months later Alex received a lovely email.

“Dad, we’ve won! The Alexandra Blush won the Gold and Supreme Champion in its category. We’ve won the gold cup!” More tears of joy!

“Best in the world against producers from China, Belgium, France, Australia, you name it. It’s a first for South Africa, but I am very chuffed for Ceres and of course Loxtonia,” says humble Larry, underplaying the biggest feat in the cider production business in South Africa.

When your value-added product wins best in the world, you know you are doing something right.

Loxtonia farm in a nutshell

Loxtonia has been in operation for 30 years with 24 fruit varieties in total at present, consisting of six different apples (on 45 ha), four pears (40 ha) and 14 plum varieties (42 ha). Being in the Warm Bokkeveld, Loxtonia was one of the first farms planting apples (starting with Pink Ladies and Sundowners) as the climate is traditionally better for pears and plums.

Harvesting kicks off with plums (240 000 boxes) in December then pears (2 200 crates) and ending up with apples (7 000 crates) in June. This year saw a record yield for apples with some cultivars delivering up to 135 000 tons per hectare in comparison to normal years yielding 80 000 – 100 000 tons per hectare. All fruit is under short-range micro-irrigation which works economically with water. More than 80% of fruit gets exported, meaning that the pack store is fully operational from November to September.

Also in our agritourism/value-added series: Fine dining in apple shed – Hortgro and The blockhouse experience – Hortgro

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