THE CIDER REVOLUTION. THE MARTINEZ SOPEÑA BROTHERS CONQUER THE MICHELIN STARS RESTAURANTS WITH A CHAMPENIOSE METHOD CIDER
In Asturias, they are called Lagareros, literally people in charge of extracting the grape juice at harvest time. Here, however, we are not talking about wine. The new revolution in Spain today is the cider.
The protagonists of this story are the brothers Francisco (1967) and Roberto (1966) Martinez Sopeña, who, behind them, do not bring with them a tradition of cider. They left their restaurant business out of love for cider, opening El Gobernador, a company founded in 1993, in the same town where they ran the restaurant: Villaviciosa. Asturias, the North-Western region of Spain, is traditionally known for its cider production, but the Martinez Sopeña brothers have managed to stand out from the crowd, perhaps because, as Francisco says, ‘we are cider romantics.’
Pioneers of double fermentation cider (champenoise method), they work 9 varieties of apples on 23 hectares cultivated from which they obtain 5 different products. “We want to differentiate the market for the consumer or the cider according to the market. The traditional one, without filtering, is for local consumption. Then there is the filtered, the stabilized one. Then we have the natural sparkling wine, which, unlike the others, has two fermentations, such as Cava or Champagne. Then there’s the sweet one made with the techniques of ice wine, but with apples.”
By Lodovica Bo
“We were the first family to open a lagar, without it being handed down to us by the family. We gave a new air to the traditional way of making cider. Our sparkling cider, ice cider, and filtered cider distinguish our production. We have always wanted to apply a winemaking method to the processing of apples, working with varieties, and having our production. At the moment, we are the largest producer of cider apples in Asturias, with a protected designation of origin. We work with several varieties, each of them designated for different products. What brought us closer to the world of cider was working in hospitality: there we realized that we wanted to create a cider for haute cuisine. Why should only great wines be on the drinks list? In Asturias today, there is a protected designation of origin with more than 75 varieties that is trying to position the cider in a market that has more recognition. Cider in Spain is very devalued: in the supermarket, you can find ciders that are too cheap. In Asturias the cultivation is suitable for the production of cider: there are bitter-acid varieties, few sweets. Today we are working on the monovarietal as if it were a white wine but of apples.”
“Why should we only talk about terroir in wine? In this area, the sea and the mountains coexist, so there are two microclimates: the result is that the cider changes from area to area. We, in the coastal zone, have a more Atlantic and temperate climate. We insist on giving value to the geographical area because we are waiting for this revolution to take place in the world of cider. I believe that this revolution is partly already starting at the moment level: cider is now fashionable. There is a cultural revolution, not only of cider: people know where the products come from, they want to focus on quality.”
“We have a farm where we produce 9 varieties of apples of different organoleptic characteristics: sour, bitter, sweet. Depending on the cider, we work with one variety or another. Apples take 8 years to enter in production, unlike wine. It’s a long project. After 25 years we are at 70% of our production, to get to 100% we rely on external producers, always in the area, but the goal is to be completely self-sufficient in a few years.”
Is the production organic or natural?
“We don’t have the organic certification, but we could. We grow with natural methods, without adding chemistry and with the natural yeasts of the plant. Each variety generates its natural yeast on the plant, and we use it.”
How did you come up with the idea of sparkling cider?
“With Emilio Martinez Brut Nature we wanted a gastronomic cider that would be the consequence of our evolution from the traditional cider. The aim was to make a cider with two fermentations to raise the image of the product. We use 3 different types of apples, all with acid profiles. Our goal was to elevate the cider as an image, producing it with the same method as the sparkling wine, the champenoise. We wanted a cider to get to the big restaurants and at the same time to differentiate ourselves from the competition. Today EM is on the map of many major michelin stars restaurants including the famous Celler de Can Roca.”
Step of production
“Harvesting takes place for 2 months: October and November, in which we collect the apples according to the time of maturation of each variety. Once we harvest the apples, they are pressed traditionally, the least aggressive, called hydraulic. We press each variety individually. The fermentation also takes place separately. In January and February, we make the coupage, mixing the different musts of the varieties depending on the cider we want to get. Here the process for all ciders is finished. However, for the EM there is one step further: the second fermentation. It ages for 11 months on the lees, then the sediment is lowered into the bottle to proceed with the degorgement and rebottled again. At this point, the process is almost ready; after 2 more months in the bottle, the cider is ready for sale.
We produce a total of 2 million liters per year, of which 20% we export to countries such as the United States, England, Holland, Denmark, Finland, and Russia.”
Thank you Francisco!