The pioneering juice company that's putting rare British apples back on the menu

May Queen, D’Arcy Spice and Red Sentinel – not the names of a new girl band, but just some of around 2,500 existing British apple varieties.

Wildpress founder Nadeem Lalani Nanjuwany

The chances of being able to buy these, however is vanishingly small, as the shops are dominated by the likes of Cox’s, Gala and Braeburn. And with the British apple season almost over until Discovery ripens around the end of July, it’s more likely to be the always imported, never British, Pink Lady and Granny Smith.


Now a new company, Wildpress, is set on bringing us the flavours of these increasingly rare – but still delicious – apple varieties, in a bottle. Old meets new in more senses than one, as in true 2020s style the start-up has been crowdfunded and sports a beautiful Instagram “grid”, as well as a strong environmental message.


No surprises that founders Adam Grout and Nadeem Lalani Nanjuwany have been running a design studio, Creative Family, for the past six years. It was while Creative Family was working with restaurants that Nanjuwany, whose wife Ravinder Bhogal is chef patron of London’s Jikoni restaurant, became frustrated by the difficulty of connecting growers with chefs.


“We felt that there was a better way to connect farmers to restaurants,” he says. “As a small business, you can’t always get right to the farms that you want to, and the farmer is already busy with his crops – he can’t think about ­marketing or the schedule. So we set about thinking how we could help get lovely produce to consumers and to ­restaurants, but with a regenerative approach.”

They hit upon British apples, as something that was seasonal, varied and with interesting flavours, and also an area that needed support. Both men grew up with apple trees in their gardens, Grout in Buckinghamshire and Nanjuwany in Pinner.

“My parents have always taken the fruit to local presses,” Grout tells me, “and the juice is unlike anything that you ever find on the supermarket shelves.

But since the 1950s, we’ve lost 90 per cent of our traditional orchards in the UK. And of the remaining 10 per cent, 40 per cent of those are in declining condition, whereby they’re not being managed properly, they don’t have funds to manage them properly, or they’re just falling into disrepair. And so part of our mission is to help those orchards recover.”

The pair visited growers, and their first trip was to the biodynamic Shire farm in Lincolnshire. “They were a bit surprised that we had approached them,” Nanjuwany recalls, “as they had two or three small orchards with apples just falling off the trees.

We walked around the orchards and they had 30 different varieties, the most stunning apples and nothing that you would see on the supermarket shelves. We said, OK, let’s try to capture the varieties, and the story behind the growers working on these apples. But we are also adding something, by selecting the apples, blending and ageing them.”

Substitute “apples” for “grapes” and it might be a winemaker talking. That’s no surprise: 11 years ago Nanjuwany’s brother Jameel set up Lalani and Co, a specialist tea importer with a radical approach to tea tasting, that borrows techniques from the fine wine world. Nanjuwany worked alongside Jameel, and though he has now left, the background in tasting is clear as he talks me through the flavours on three of the juices.

We use wine glasses, and swirl and sniff in best Jilly Goolden style. Wildpress is using apples from four farms, and first up is Waltham Place, a biodynamic farm in Berkshire. The single variety juice is made from Monarch, a kind of cooking apple.

I expect sourness, but it is fresh, with a good sweet-acid balance, down to harvesting at the end of their season in November, says Nanjuwany. A touch of bracing tannin at the end keeps it interesting enough to have as an aperitif.

Next up is Palace Doctor, a blend of Blenheim Orange (hence the “palace” for Blenheim Palace) and Ashmead’s Kernel, a variety allegedly raised by a Dr Ashmead in Gloucester. It is a headily pear-scented juice, with floral notes, that makes it good for drinking with pudding.


Finally we try the innovative Vivienne 30 Days, made with fruit that has been stored for a month before pressing. Ageing apples deliberately might sound odd, but it’s a venerable technique: Shakespeare mentions “apple-johns”, apples that are kept until wrinkled and semi-dried, intensifying the flavour. And the Vivienne, named in honour of Dame Vivienne Westwood, is amber, deep and rich, with a pleasing dry, savoury smell.

Variety is the goal, and not just of apples. The business has a bigger vision, to play its part in boosting national wildlife, according to Grout, by sourcing all its apples from orchards “where there’s visible, rich biodiversity”. Biodiversity is declining alarmingly, say environmentalists, with the UK in the bottom 10 per cent of countries.

This matters, says leading conservationist Mary Colwell, who is behind the natural history GCSE expected to launch in 2023. “The more biodiverse we are, the more robust the system is. Within the past six decades we have lost over 50 per cent of the mass of wildlife on Earth. Half the number of birds sing, half the number of bees buzz, half the number of wild flowers bloom.”

Having a broad variety of plants matters in agriculture as well as in the wild, as any banana expert will tell you. For international exports, banana farmers worldwide rely on a single cultivar, Cavendish, with all plants cloned from one originally grown at Chatsworth House in Derbyshire. But this monoculture has left the industry vulnerable.

Diseases like black sigatoka and fusarium fungus spread when there is little diversity, threatening to wipe out entire crops.

Smaller orchards with tiny crops of perhaps a couple of trees in each variety is not generally commercially viable compared with vast single-variety mega-farms. But Wildpress can press small loads in Buckinghamshire, and sell a batch of a few cases of bottles on the website. It’s these little orchards we need to treasure, says Grout.

“These small orchards could potentially be lingering in the corner of a larger estate, they might have been earmarked for grubbing up and replacing with more commercial crops. And those are the sort of orchards that have begun to rewild. Those are the farms we really wanted to support, because if we can protect that biodiversity, we can protect that mosaic habitat, woodland meets hedgerow meets wild-flower meadow. There’s lots of dead wood in orchards, which provides homes for bugs, bees, critters that are so special and so valuable to not just that farm but the surrounding area.”

Working our way through the juices, just the range of flavours seems like justification enough for the breadth of varieties, whether it is the tannic grip of Red Sentinel, a crab apple that is a favourite with pollinating insects, or the “moody ice tea” of bottle-aged Ashmead’s Kernel. If this is what saving the planet tastes like, rock on.


Source: The Telegraph