Tassie based cidermaker Melissa Fettke didn’t always know she’d end up on the Apple Isle. In fact, it was winemaking that first caught her eye. But not one to say no to a new challenge, Melissa ended up changing her career to brewing and, eventually cider making. She’s passionate about apples and will tell you that there’s more to what she does than just tasting. explore DRINKS asked Melissa about what her job involves, what she’d change about the industry if she could, and how she feels as a female in-cider.
explore DRINKS: You were a winemaker before becoming a cider maker. Why did you make the switch?
Melissa Fettke: Well, switching from wine to cider wasn’t entirely planned, but I’m very glad it happened. I was perusing an industry job website back in 2007 and came across an advert looking for a cider maker. I was intrigued and opened the ad, only to discover that it was for a brewery I had been enjoying beers from for many years. After that discovery was made, I didn’t hesitate to apply.
Explaining the switch to my winemaking connections wasn’t easy, as cider wasn’t seen as a serious career move. But the opportunity to develop a new product from scratch and to be one of the industry leaders was too great an opportunity to miss. At that time in Australia, the ciders readily available were Mercury and Strongbow, so releasing a new cider into the mainstream market, from 100% fresh apple juice, was a fantastic thing to be a part of.
Brewing beer was a side benefit of becoming the cider maker, as it helped me integrate into the new role within the brewery. The knowledge and skills I gained from the ten years I was in the brewing industry have proved highly beneficial since moving back to the wine industry to make cider.
eD: Can you tell us about the company you work for now?
MF: Winemaking Tasmania is a unique production facility dedicated to making premium wine and cider on behalf of our orchard and vineyard brand owner clients. Every wine or cider we make is unique; we don’t have set recipes in place for all the fruit we get to fit into, we tailor each and every beverage to represent the provenance of its source.
We have a diversity of cider clients who each have a different number of cider styles in their portfolio. Apart from the standard apple and pear ciders, we also make a couple of ciders flavoured with cherry or raspberry juice.
eD: Is there a particular style of cider that you prefer making?
MF: The style of cider that I tend to make the most of is modern medium-sweet cider, that is cider made from readily available table apples, with a mid-level of residual sweetness remaining in the product.
eD: For those that might think your job consists of drinking cider all day, what’s really involved in the work of a cider maker?
MF: Logistics. Lots of logistics. Yes, there’s tasting involved, but the reality is that you’re continually planning workload, managing fruit intake, crushing and ferments, and coordinating the final packaging of the product.
eD: How many years of training does it take to become a cider maker?
MF: Formal training for a cider maker is not available in Australia. I studied oenology at Adelaide University, and have applied my knowledge to make cider. Lots of my knowledge of cidermaking has been through trial and error, so I am continually learning.
eD: There are a lot of different apples and styles of cider available now. What are some basic tips for finding a style of cider that suits your individual tastes?
MF: Honestly, just go out and try cider. Simply because one brand isn’t what you like doesn’t mean that cider isn’t for you in general. The beauty of most ciders is that they come in small bottles, so it’s not a huge investment to go and try a multitude of styles from different producers and regions. I believe there’s a cider out there to suit every taste, you just need to be willing to find it.
eD: Would you say that Tasmanian apples are Australia’s best for cider making?
MF: Australian apples from reputable apple growing regions are all great for making cider, however, Tasmania is known as the Apple Isle for a reason.
eD: If you could change something about the cider industry in Australia, what would it be?
MF: I would love to see more people committed to growing apples exclusively for the cider industry. Currently, the majority of apples used for cider are juicing apples, which is essentially a waste stream of the table apple industry. When cider isn’t considered a valuable product adding to a waste stream of another industry (table apples), then cider will be taken more seriously as a beverage and an industry as a whole.
eD: There doesn’t seem to be too many women making cider. Can it be a bit of a ‘blokey’ industry?
MF: I’ve honestly never noticed it being a blokey industry. Sure, there might be more males making wine, beer and cider than females, but when you’re all working towards the same goal – to make the best product you possibly can – everyone is welcoming and willing to share information.
eD: What are the top cider events that our readers should get to?
MF: Compared to beer and wine, there currently aren’t a lot of cider specific events, however, it would be unusual not to see cider producers at beer, wine and food events nowadays. The best place to find out about upcoming events that include cider is online at www.cideraustralia.org.au/events
eD: Sitting down for a well-deserved glass at the end of your week, what would be your go-to drop currently?
MF: It all depends on the day as to what I want.