As the saying goes, the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, and for the man behind the award-winning Apple Thief Cider, a return to the Snowy Valleys where his family roots run deep was inevitable.
Dave Purcell is a third-generation farmer from outside Batlow and he has big plans for a local tourism venture based on the popularity of the unique local cider.
After more than a decade in the Southern Highlands, Dave and partner Mel returned with their young family just over a year ago and took over the old Wilgro Orchards on Batlow Road.
“On the family farm at Wondalga we ran predominantly sheep and cattle but my parents put some fruit trees in and that’s where I found my space,” he said.
“But the orcharding game has changed a fair bit and, where years ago you could make a good living out of being a small grower, these days you have to expand in a pretty big way.”
Frustrated by fluctuating fruit markets and crops left to rot on the tree, Dave saw the growing popularity of apple cider as a chance to diversify.
“I started making cider about 11 years ago when I was living in the Southern Highlands,” he explained.
“I’d been doing some work with local vineyards and I’d seen some of them starting their wine labels and I decided to develop a brand using Batlow apples.”
Starting with the popular Pink Lady apples, Dave’s cider was a hit with family and friends and he soon stepped up production.
The brand name and award-winning logo were inspired by the natural enemy of the apple farmer.
“I had a few ideas for a name but I was pretty green and so we went along to a small agency in Surry Hills and they said, ‘Tell us about apple farming,'” he recalled.
“I said that birds were a big issue and when you’ve got ripe fruit trees they can smell it for miles away and so we ran with that idea and the Apple Thief was born.
“If you look at the branding, the bird’s eye is quite mischievous and quirky because the story goes that he stole the best fruit and stuck it in the cider.”
The brand has proved to be a hit and offers other unique flavours like Granny Smith, Braeburn Gala and cherry and blueberry-infused ciders.
With a busy production facility and a temporary roadside cider house offering tastings and sales, the next step will be The Apple Thief Cidery and Cider House.
The project includes a cafe, bar and tourism experience and has been backed through the NSW Government’s Bushfire Local Economic Recovery Fund.
“In 2019 I’d been looking to make a home for the brand in Batlow,” said Dave.
“When the fires came through, we lost the family farm and within the space of four days, we also lost a good friend who came to help and an uncle passed away.
“With that combination of three things it was tough on a lot of people, and it still is.”
Determined to make a positive from a negative, Dave and Mel are excited about the opportunities their new, expanded cidery will bring to the region.
“I had watched the Southern Highlands area grow from the early days to where it opened up from a tourism point of view, especially in the vineyard, wine and olive industry,” Dave said.
“Now I see those areas are saturated and people looking for something further afield and all the foodie people are looking to try local produce and they want a story behind it.
“I think there’s great potential here and we’re seeing more and more people come to the area and just love the scenery and the fresh air and all the local produce.”
Planning is well underway for the new venture which the Apple Thief team hope to open to the public in the latter part of 2024.