Diversification is key for family-owned Kent fruit farm

Fruit Posted 02/05/18
Fruit farming has been in the Nightingale family’s blood for 70 years.

Now entering its third generation, the Nightingale family is embracing an emerging market that they believe will take the farm forward for generations to come.

Based on Gibbet Oak Farm, Tenterden, the Nightingale Cider Company is drawing on its rich local heritage to make its mark in the flourishing craft cider market.

Sam and Tim Nightingale’s grandfather started the family’s fruit farming tradition in 1948 and their father Peter bought Gibbet Oak Farm in 1984. The family business reached a pivotal moment in 2015 when, as Peter looked towards retirement in the not-too-distant future, Sam decided to leave behind his career in TV sound recording and join his brother on the farm full-time.

“As custodians of this land, we feel very blessed to have this beautiful farm in a wonderful community,” Sam said. “My family has always understood that diversification is the key to keeping the farm going. From an honesty box at the side of the road, my father created a successful farm shop that has been running for 18 years. Now we’ve taken the next step with two key developments that will drive the business forward.”

The company has just launched an online shop, where people can order the farm’s award-winning products with the click of a mouse. This will enable customers anywhere in the UK to enjoy a taste of the nectar that Sam believes is key to the future of the business – Kentish craft cider.

“What started out as a hobby with my friend a few years ago has become a real success for the farm,” Sam said. “In 2013 we launched our first two bottled ciders and our range is now sold in our farm shop and in retail businesses and pubs around the county, alongside our perry and fruit juices – we now showcase 11 different products.

“There’s been a real renaissance in the craft brewing scene and this is such an exciting time for the cider scene, which is gathering real momentum. But Nightingale Cider stands out from the crowd because we’re orchard-based cider makers; the fruit is grown right here in Tenterden, so it captures something of the local terroir. Our approach is very naturalistic, in that we work solely with wild fermentations and the natural yeast in the fruit. This means that the cider is different every year, allowing the apple to wholly express itself. We’re not trying to homogenise everything and make it all the same. As a cider maker, I’m learning all the time; it’s a real relationship with the fruit and the land.”

Currently on the brink of launching a new sparkling keg cider that will be available to pubs, Nightingale Cider Company is already building a following in the craft drinks world. Just last week, Sam joined the judging panel of the prestigious International Cider Challenge 2018, chaired by well-known ‘Ciderologist’, Gabe Cook.

The family now has plans to open a tap room at the farm during the summer months, so that Tenterden residents and visitors alike can learn more about the Nightingale Cider Company and its contribution to the local economy.


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