Ciderman raises fighting spirit

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The Independent Online
JULIAN Temperley's rambling Somerset farm and old oak cider house fit the English ideal of rural life so perfectly that the BBC used both in its forthcoming adaptation of Thomas Hardy's The Woodlanders.

Mr Temperley looks as though he has stepped out of a novel himself. A passionate, quixotic man, he became a West Country hero when he and his backers took a huge and, in the opinion of many, insane risk.

They put pounds 500,000 into reviving the art of distilling cider brandy (British calvados) which had died out in England in the 17th century. Restaurateurs, and German and Japanese importers, were astounded that the English food and drink industry could come up with what the Independent on Sunday's wine critic described as a "pure, fresh and deliciously appley" spirit.

But idyllic facades cannot keep the dark forces of the world at bay. Mr Temperley's farm in the village of Kingsbury Episcopi, near Yeovil, is, he maintains, the target of a plot by Scotch whisky and Spanish brandy interests to stamp on the fledgling industry.

Mr Temperley is not a man to walk away from a fight. He expects little of the Spanish. "They're very clever. They steal our fish and then make us pay them for the privilege of being robbed." But he is appalled at the stance of Scotch Whisky Association: "They have broken up the fraternity of distillers. They're engaged in skulduggery. They're selling me down the river."

The argument has an apparently trivial cause. The Spanish government is lobbying the European Council of Ministers to reinterpret council regulation 1576/89 and outlaw the description "cider brandy". The word "brandy" should be preserved exclusively for a spirit made from grapes, it says.

But any name change could ruin Mr Temperley. For eight years he has fought to get customers to understand what cider brandy is. The late Elisabeth Frink and other leading artists were commissioned to design eye-catching labels. Now he sells 50,000 bottles a year to the main gift-food and supermarket chains, although his investors will still have to wait years before they see a penny of their money back.

If he is forced to start again with a new name, eight years of building up recognition will be wasted. "What could I call it? he asks. "Somerset apple liqueur? Eau de vie de Somerset? Somerset grappa? People wouldn't know what I was talking about." He cannot call it calvados as that is a term restricted by law to the cider brandies of Normandy.

In theory, the Scotch Whisky Association is neutral. All it wanted to do was protect the name of whisky from cheap foreign imitations, said a spokesman. But a letter leaked to Mr Temperley from the SWA to a Miss Alexia Davidson at the Ministry of Agriculture shows the whisky lobby being anything but disinterested. European law which allowed Somerset cider makers to produce a drink called "cider brandy" was based on a poor translation from French to English, it said. It added: "We have considerable sympathy with our Spanish colleagues." Terms such as "cider brandy" were "contradictory and misleading".

As the dispute has turned nasty, politicians have been lined up by both sides. Mr Temperley has the backing of Angela Browning, the Agriculture minister, who says the use of "cider brandy" is perfectly legal, and Paddy Ashdown, the Liberal Democrat leader and Yeovil MP. But Mr Temperley remains worried. "I'll be up against the Spanish government and the whisky association, which is the nearest thing Scotland has to a government when this comes to Europe. Whatever happens, we'll probably have to spend a fortune on lawyers."

In preparation for the battle, he has been through the archives to show that cider brandy is an old English name. A Treatise on Cider, published in 1678, provides conclusive proof. "After due fermentation," said the author, J Worlidge, "extract [a spirit] vulgarly called brandy in great plenty." It is "very excellent, quick and burning".

The Scotch Whisky Association has so far ignored Mr Temperley's demand that it withdraw its support for the Spaniards. He suspects it sees him as a long-term threat. He believes passionately that England has the best apples in the world and repeatedly says he would love to see cider brandy made all over the West Country. Other apple-growers are already showing an interest, he says.

With that, Mr Temperley returns to this year's crop of Brown Snout, Yarlington Mill, Dabinett Somerset and the 20 or so other cider apples he grows. If his business survives, they will emerge from his pot stills as Somerset Royal Cider Brandy - or whatever name the EU deems appropriate - in 2000.