I have long been fascinated by cider – real, fresh-juice, Irish cider.
About ten years ago, while immersed in the Irish wine game, I fancied creating a cider company with my cousin Neiler. I started by learning how to make the delicious liquid and completed a cidermaking course with Peter Mitchell in the UK. Alas, the timing was wrong and we reluctantly set off on our own paths. However, one brilliant kernel from those early days remained – our shared Granny’s maiden name – and still our inspiration and our chosen brand name – Orpens.
Known as “The Galloping Granny” when she was forced to retire at 62, Charmian Orpen was the first lady in the world to be issued with a professional jockey’s licence to race against men – something she did with winning aplomb, especially on her famous horse, Dawn Run. Our cider proudly carries her name for her indomitable spirit.
Having grown up in Dun Laoghaire, I left Ireland after school and amongst the jigs and reels, spent five years travelling the world – mostly by sea as crew to many different boats. When on land, I worked in the drinks industry, towards which I naturally gravitated.
And when I needed peace and quiet I found myself back on the sea – sometimes in small boats and in big storms.
On my return, the allure of the drinks industry continued to call and I became a wine merchant working with two separate companies spanning a period of over 13 years. I travelled extensively, completed an executive MBA in Bordeaux, France, and started a wonderful family.
But, something was nagging at me. I wanted to be able to do more than sell the intriguing nectar of vines from far-away lands – I wanted to make something proudly and uniquely Irish, and make it with the same intensity and authenticity with which the best winemakers approach their craft. I wanted this product to sing about Ireland from the glass, and to have a sense of place in the same way the best wines have. I knew all along my answer lay in cider.
It’s been a long slog. Primarily, because with a wine perspective and philosophy shaping our vision, we’ve had to almost redefine the category somewhat. But we’ve made it happen. We’ve got something authentic and truly exciting I am so proud of.
My instinctive obsession with detail seems to suit the CEO responsibility I have been handed by my fellow directors, and it would be true to say I am revelling in it.
Besides a tidy house and an over-organised office, I get my kicks from hanging with my family and friends. Watching the rugby with a few buddies over one or two pints is seminal and any time I can get out of the city for a bit of wide open space, either up a mountain or on the sea, make for a happily balanced existence.
Through the open, honest character and unique quality of Orpens, I hope to show the world yet another intriguing and satisfying facet of this special land.