At Petritegi we want to highlight the figure of the cider maker as the person who contributes the human factor to making quality cider, giving the drink its personal touch. Apart from their experience and knowledge of the product we must add their commitment to innovation and modernisation of the trade. For years the cider maker at Petritegi has been José Joaquín Otaño, representative of the 4th generation of the Otaño-Goikoetxea family who was actually born in the farmhouse; he learned the trade with his father and took up the reins of the cider house in the 70s. Since then he has lovingly conveyed his passion for the cider trade to his entire family. A great connoisseur of his apples and barrels (or kupelak in Basque), he dedicates a large part of his time to them.
Every day in the cellar he tastes the musts to assess their nuances and their evolution, an enormously important task since, having made a critical analysis and based on his personal experience and criteria, he will proceed with the necessary decanting and mixtures to balance and give the ciders their own personality. Today Joaquín has passed the baton to his daughter, Ainara Otaño, representative of the family’s 5th generation. Ainara manages a young but highly experienced team since most of its members grew up among the apple orchards and barrels at Petritegi. Her manner of understanding the trade is based on her inherited respect for tradition and a job well done. Added to this is her own experience in the industry: a life dedicated to cider, technical training and constant learning; the keys required to modernise, professionalise and keep the cider-making trade alive.
At Petritegi we start controlling apples in the orchard so that we know when they are perfectly mature, hence the importance of working with locally-sourced apples.
To make quality cider, we must mix acidic, bitter and sweet apples; we therefore classify the physical/chemical composition of the apples variety by variety. No two mixtures are ever the same since they vary depending on the product to be made.
Once controlled and their maturity studied, the apples are harvested and taken to the cellar, where we separate them into classes. Depending on the characteristics of the apples harvested, we will harvest more of the same from one or another area with a view to mixing them at a future date.
Before pressing the apples, they are pre-washed to eliminate all phytosanitary substances used during the growing process (essential to prevent apple disease), in addition to removing any dust or mud from them. This water will be used to transport the apples to the selection table.
Once pre-washed, the apples receive a final rinse with pressurised water to ensure the removal of absolutely all harmful substances. This will guarantee good fermentation and therefore high quality cider.
This is an enormously important step in cider making. Although we select apples in the orchard, they are subsequently spread out on a selection table from which we remove all apples to have suffered excessive damage during transport and others considered to be overripe.
Once the apples have been selected and washed, they are crushed to extract part of the must for better subsequent pressing. The crushing process is regulated according to the desired product. If we intend to macerate the apples, before pressing we will crush them gently; otherwise, we would extract too much tannin from the skin, obtaining a product of excessive bitterness and colour. If they are going directly to the press, they will be crushed a little harder in order to extract more must during the pressing process.
Pressing must be carried out as swiftly as possible in order to avoid the risk of contamination and alterations to the product. We also use temperature control sleeves to guarantee the very best of musts. The apples are always pressed at low pressure so as not to break the apple pips, which make the end product overly aggressive. Another of the pressing objectives is to extract the highest possible amount of must from the apple, a yield of around 75%.
The must obtained from the press is always cloudy despite the net fitted to the press outlet to retain the more solid particles. Once the must has been poured into the tanks, it is analysed to study the quality of the mixtures with the different apple varieties. At this stage we can rectify imbalances by adding another must rich in the missing component. The analysis takes account of acidity, pH, sugar and tannin.
All of our tanks have temperature controls; it is very important to lower the must temperature to delay start of the fermentation process and decant the must for the first time.
The purpose of decanting is to naturally separate the solids from the must. The fermentation therefore has to be delayed by lowering the must temperature (to 10-12ºC). This will allow us to separate the must from its solids, which will eventually drop to the bottom with their own weight (approximately 12-24 hours).
Once the necessary decanting time is complete, the clean must will be transferred to another tank for fermentation.
This is when the sugar in the must transforms into alcohol. The microorganisms responsible for fermentation are the yeasts. It takes 17 gr/l of sugar to transform 1º of alcohol. Also enormously important in the fermentation process is the temperature control (10-14ºC), given that, the lower the temperature, the more aromatic the result, in addition to naturally maintaining as much carbonic gas as possible, which is essential in obtaining quality cider.
We will begin by rendering the entire piping installation inert with nitrogen to eliminate all oxygen. If the cider comes into contact with oxygen, it will lose its fruity flavour and oxidise (darken).
It is also important to bottle at low temperature in order to maintain the highest possible amount of carbonic gas.
The cider is now ready for consumption; for the best results, it should be consumed at just the right temperature (12-14ºC). It should also be splashed into a glass from a height to release its full flavour. It is also important to serve it in only sufficient quantities for a single gulp; it will lose its natural sparkle and go flat if left to rest. So let’s taste it!
Store bottles of cider horizontally in a cool, dry place. To enjoy its qualities to the full, it is advisable to consume the cider within its recommended use-by date. Natural cider should be consumed at between 10 and 13ºC. Cider is an unfiltered product which, with time, tends to drop sediment to the bottom of the bottle.
Before serving, we recommend turning the bottle upside down and shaking it to homogenise the cider. Once open, the cider should be consumed almost immediately, replacing the cork to keep it fresh. The glass should be wide-mouthed and thin-walled to enjoy the cider to its full. When serving, the bottle should be raised slightly so that the cider splashes off the side of the glass on pouring; it should be consumed immediately.