Having made his name in Champagne, Peter Crawford is now pumping some of his abundant energy into cider, writes Peter Ranscombe.
FEW Champagne enthusiasts can match Peter Crawford’s energy.
The Palmerston restaurant and shop in Edinburgh is buzzing with lunchtime chatter when we meet, but it’s still his laughter and baritone that fill the wood-panelled room.
Crawford began his Champagne journey as a student in St Andrews, working in the old Oddbins shop on Bell Street alongside the legendary Peter Wood, who now runs St Andrews Wine Company.
His career as a physiotherapist led him to London, but his enthusiasm for sparkling wine continued to draw him across the Channel each month for 20 years, visiting vineyards, meeting producers, and building up contacts within the Champagne industry.
When his physiotherapist practice closed down, he took the plunge and turned his passion into his day job.
Having supplied the Champagne for his friend Daniel Blatchford’s wedding, the pair decided to go into business together and Sip Champagnes was born.
The company specialises in bottles from small producers, often called “grower Champagnes” because the farmers turn their own grapes into wine, rather than selling them to the big companies behind the well-known brands to to co-operatives.
Since launching in June 2020, Sip has doubled its number of producers from 25 to around 50, with more than 150 Champagnes now listed on its website.
They include the really impressive Famille Delouvin Semper Fidelis 2014 (£60, Sip Champagnes), which displays classic bruised red apple, brown sugar, and toasted white bread on the nose.
Its high acidity is well-balanced by more red apple, brown sugar, and toast on the palate, plus richer digestive biscuit.
On the finish, it’s fresher green apple that comes to the fore, with much more concentrated fruit flavours on the palate than the nose suggests.
A cider that will appeal to Champagne and Prosecco fans
This weekend, Crawford will be indulging his other passion – cider.
Around a dozen Scottish cider producers are gathering at Guardswell Farm near Inchture between Perth and Dundee for “Pressed”, a celebration of the cider and perry scene, with Crawford swapping his Sip hat for his Naughton Cider Company head gear.
His family has an arable farm at Balmerino near Newport-on-Tay in Fife, where Crawford planted 1,200 apple trees between 2018 and 2020, supplementing those already growing in the farm’s ancient orchard.
Having made his own Champagne for the first time in 2018, he decided to try his hand at cider making the following year, using some of his own apples and others harvested from North-East Fife.
Uncorking a bottle of his 2019 vintage with a conversation-stoppingly loud “pop”, he shares a sneaky taste of the cider before it goes on sale.
Tonnes of bruised apple, lemon rind, and some metallic aromas on the nose lead into high acidity and juicy red and green apples on the palate, with a twist of vanilla custard on the finish to help balance all those sharp flavours.
Its production borrows some winemaking techniques, with Champagne yeasts used for the first fermentation to turn the apple juice into alcohol and the second fermntation to add the bubbles.
Some 35% of the cider spends time in young oak barrels, which impart those vanilla flavours.
His 2019 vintage cider has already spent 21 months on its “lees” – the dead yeast cells left over after the fermentation – to help build its body and texture, and balance its acidity, with Crawford aiming for a total of 24 or 30 months before releasing future vintages.
“My other cuvees will do other things but, ultimately, I want this one to be an aperitif, an alternative for people who don’t want Champagne or Prosecco,” Crawford explains, adding that his 2020 vintage is on course to be even fresher.
Look out out for the 2019 in the coming weeks, when it will join Crawford’s Lanthorn Craft Cider 2020 and his single variety Homage to Hogg 2020, made from apples on an orchard he manages in Oxfordshire.
Read more of Peter Ranscombe’s wine, beer, and spirits reviews on his drinks blog, The Grape & The Grain.