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What do you enjoy most about producing Pays Basque Cider?
Cider or “apple wine” is a cultural tradition in the Basque Country. Our grandfather at his farm produced his own family cider. However, we slowly lost this cultural habit in the Northern Basque Country. In the Southern Basque Country, where Kupela produces our ciders and juice, this tradition is still going strong. It is very common and it’s part of everyday life, especially in the Gipuzkua region. Now that we have a strong partnership with our cider maker and that we are 100% implicated in all the steps of the cider making, we enjoy trying new experiences and creating new ciders.
Thinking of cider what is your favorite time of year and why?
Here are two of my favorite periods: Apple harvest in September/October and “Txotx” time when the cider houses (Sagarnotegi) are open from January 15th to May 15th.
Txotx is a ritual: opening of the barrel by the owner when you eat at the cider house.
Why did you decide to produce cider?
Kupela started when we met Agustin Etxeberria, a great cider maker. We fell in love with his cider and his cider house. Therefore, we asked him to develop a new kind of cider for northern Basque Country, more adapted to the French market and export markets like the US. As we share the same Basque language (Euskara) and values, we get along very easily and the desire to do business came naturally. We spent a lot of time elaborating our first ciders together, creating and developing the brand image and packaging, as we want to spread Basque cider culture all over the world and make it shine as part of the Basque gastronomy - which is already famous.
How many ciders do you make and how are they different?
We have 3 kind of ciders:
- A dry cider, the Sagardoa, (which literally translates into apple wine in Basque) a traditional Basque cider; we have the natural version and the organic version, in 75cl and key-kegs. And soon available in 33cl cans!
- The semi-dry cider, Bizia (lively in Basque), available in 75cl and 33cl; this one has more sugar, it’s sweeter, slightly sparkling and very refreshing.
- The Brut or Premium Semi-dry, Aingura (the anchor) that we are releasing next month. It’s a new product, between our dry and semi-dry. With locally grown organic selected apples varieties, this cider is the perfect balance between body, character and taste. Slightly sparkling, it’s a 5,5 degree cider in a very elegant bottle with premium design.
The Apple varieties are very important in the cider making. We use the best locally grown apples from our orchards or supplied by farmers in the Basque Country. We developed different apple combinations to balance acidity, bitterness and sweetness and to offer complex, yet delicious ciders.
Apples like Urtebi haundia, Gezamina or Moko bring acidity and color. They give the tangy flavor and the character to the cider.
Goikoetxea or Manttoni varieties are well balanced and sweet with a bit of bitterness.
Mozuluo and patzolua are on the most bitter varieties.
Who is involved with creating your ciders?
Our cider maker Agustin Etxeberria and our team at Kupela.
What is the Basque region like?
We view it more as a country than a region, as it is one of the most ancient (and beautiful) land of Europe. History, culture and identity are very unique here and even though we are split between two countries (France & Spain) our language and traditions bring us together. The landscapes are very diverse and very green and we benefit from both the Atlantic Ocean and Pyrenees nearby.
Where are your orchards?
They are located in Gipuzkua, in towns called Astigarraga, Hernani and Asteasu.
Tell us about the harvest. The long sticks they use are so interesting!!
The long stick is called zizkia. It is traditionally used to help pick up the apple from the ground by hand. It’s very impressive and a lot of hard work, you pick up the apple very fast with the zizkia to put in the bag on your back. It’s a beautiful experience. Every single apple is picked up by hand.
How is Basque cider different from Normandy or Brittany cider?
First let me tell you a bit about the history of cider
Cider originated in the Basque Country. It was produced here for more than 1000 years. The Basque are famous for exploring the world and were known as very good sailors a few centuries ago. From around the fifth century, Basque sailors used to hunt wales from Basque coasts to Iceland or even Newfoundland, stopping by Brittany and Normandy coasts. During the trip, which could last 12 months, they had kupelas (barrels) full of cider. Each sailor drank about 4 liters of cider a day, to stay healthy, and fight scurvy, as cider contains high levels of vitamin C. Sagardoa was their elixir. They introduced the beverage to Brittany and Normandy in the Middle-Ages.
Nowadays French ciders taste different from the Basque traditional cider. The main categories of ciders in France are: doux, brut and sec. The alcohol degree is often between 2 to 5 degrees. They are sweet and sparkle a lot, often pasteurized or filtrated, when the Sagardoa cider is unfiltered, unpasteurized and dry. French Ciders (from Brittany and Normandy) are usually consumed with cakes or crepes, whereas Sagardoa here goes well with savory dishes, pintxo (or Tapas) as well as meat.
Our semi-dry cider of 4,5% can be compared to a French cider, but it contains much less sugar and it sparkles less.
The most important difference between ciders from Brittany and Normandy and Basque ones comes from the production method. Sagardoa’s maturation is pushed to the maximum, which makes it on the one hand more alcoholic than the other ciders (between 6 and 7 degrees), and on the other hand not sparkling. Hence, the special way we serve cider, from above, to make it foam a little.
What is the one thing you want Americans to know about your cider?
Kupela is natural, unfiltered, no added sugar or coloring and naturally gluten free. It’s the original beverage from the Basque Country. Kupela is authentic, healthy and delicious. It’s traditional but at the same time innovative.
Do you have a special batch of cider that you make just for you and your family?
In the cider house we experiment a lot; mixing varieties of apples, or different type of ciders, as we try to come up with new ideas and products, always. We want our customers to experience a pleasant beverage that they will remember.
What do you tell people to get them try Basque cider for the very first time?
Taste the origin. As in, the original cider. Natural, with no additives, tasty and well-balanced, it’s the perfect beverage for people who want to discover Basque cider, or for cider lovers.
Why should Americans like Basque cider?
They will love it for its taste and the whole story and culture it represents. Drinking Basque cider is discovering the most original cider of Europe (and maybe of the world).
What should they eat with Basque Cider?
Sagardoa goes well with savory dishes, pintxo or tapas, grilled fish or t bone beaf.
Bizia is a refreshing alternative to beer. Desserts or fishes could be appreciated with it.
Is there anything else you’d like to share about Kupela?
Kupela is more than cider to us, it’s about our Basque culture that we want to share with Americans and the rest of the world.
We currently distribute cider, poiré, Calvados, Armagnac and Cognac to fine restaurants, bars, clubs, wedding venues and specialty retailers in the state of Washington and in New Hampshire state liquor stores through Beauchamp Imports, Inc. To request a tasting for your licensed establishment, or to inquire about distributing our products, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. We look forward to sharing our portfolio of fine products with you!