12 October 2022

Roadside cider house first step towards $3.5m Batlow tourism venture bearing fruit

| Edwina Mason
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Family picnic

While their $3.5 million development takes shape, Dave Purcell and Mel Dickson, and their young family, have set up a temporary cidery for The Apple Thief at one of Batlow’s most popular tourism stops – the former Wilgro Orchards. Photos: Dave Purcell.

Big things are brewing in Batlow – not the least of which is cider, and now the small apple-growing town has a cidery to offer locals and visitors.

Dave Purcell and Mel Dickson have taken over the former Wilgro Orchards on Batlow Road, where the next chapter in their The Apple Thief cider story is taking shape.

It also signals the end of about 40 years of apple farming for Ralph and Judy Wilson, who grew their 12 acres (4.8 hectares) into a popular tourism stop and shop, offering just about everything that could be produced from an apple or a cherry, with a delicious side of light meals and coffee.

READ ALSO Batlow farmer reshapes his apple-growing future

The Wilson legacy will live on through Dave and Mel, among the last of the smaller apple producers in the district.

It’s a temporary set-up while the family continues to work on plans for its whiz-bang new The Apple Thief Cider House restaurant, bar and immersive orchard experience but one that gets their apples rolling.

In late 2020 the new development was among 26 projects worth a total of more than $56 million approved in Eden-Monaro electorate by the Federal and NSW governments under the Bushfire Local Economic Recovery Fund, to boost local economies as communities recover from the 2019-20 bushfires.

Just over $3.5 million was awarded to The Apple Thief for a multifaceted business development, involving a new cider manufacturing and distribution centre, and immersive tourism experience.

Man and woman in front of tree

“I grew up in the family orchards, in this town and these mountains, so it was an easy decision to come home to this community. I believe in my apples … and I believe in Batlow,” says Dave Purcell of his family’s investment in the region.

The relocation of the cider business to Batlow means existing interstate contract fermentation and bottling arrangements would be replaced with an integrated new cidery, using Batlow apples and providing new employment opportunities in Batlow.

It also means that the in-demand line-up of varietal ciders produced by The Apple Thief can be crushed, brewed, bottled and distributed in-house.

During this overall development, a new specialist cider variety apple organic orchard will be established on site, as well as a ”hub” offering space for community and private events.

The young family has now moved to the town from the Southern Highlands, which marks a return home for Dave, who grew up among the apple orchards surrounding Batlow.

For him the decade of ”commuting” cross country to craft the next batch of The Apple Thief cider is now in the rear-view mirror.

“I grew up in the family orchards, in this town and these mountains,” he said, “so it was an easy decision to come home to this community. I believe in my apples … and I believe in Batlow.”

Following the devastating impact of the 2020 bushfires, the community has been gradually refinding its feet, kindling new hope and purpose for the Snowy Valleys township.

READ ALSO Cider the apple of Batlow’s eye as industry interest ripens

Dave is determined that the local apple and orchard industry will not just rise from the ashes but come back bigger and better than ever to put Batlow back on the map as a tourist and ”foodie” destination.

“I believe that bringing The Apple Thief back to Batlow will help inspire others to invest in the Snowy Valleys region and bring back the visitors and our community needs,” he said.

“It will help drive demand for accommodation, dining and local produce, and that’s good for a lot of people.”

And, he said, The Apple Thief was still a boutique producer, “but this means we’ll be creating and supporting local jobs for local people. It’s what’s needed here as we regrow”.

Mel Dickson said the temporary cidery and roadside stall would not just celebrate all things cider but, as the Wilsons did, offer light meals, great coffee and cakes.

“But we’ll also be doing lots with Batlow’s famous fruit and other local and regional produce,” said Mel.

The rustic store will offer tasting and sales of The Apple Thief ciders, along with a growing selection of locally produced jams, honey, fruit, herbal teas and gifts.

The Apple Thief Cider House is now open Thursday through to Sunday, from 8 am to 4 pm.

It is four kilometres north of Batlow on the Batlow Road.

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