“Imagine more than 2,000 cider houses here, rolling from the mountains of Zerain to the sea some 200 years ago,” said Aritz Eguren, looking out past an orchard that tumbled down into a deep gorge. Below, a herd of ponies was grazing pasture. On all sides fruit trees glinted in the afternoon sun. From the slope, we could see Oiharte Sagardotegi, the working farm run by Eguren and his wife Maite, and, behind that, a warehouse of steel barrels filled with naturally fermented cider from Moko, Goikoetxe and Errezil apples native to the Basque Country.
“Now let’s drink,” Eguren said.
In the soft haze of the farm cellar, the cider maker called “Txotx!” and opened a spigot on the side of one of the barrels. His onomatopoeic declaration – a Basque term for the traditional toothpick-sized barrel stoppers, now shorthand for the start of cider drinking hour – was followed by a backlit stream of gold gushing from the drum towards the floor.
Before it hit the cold concrete floor, he caught the first pour in a tilted short glass around 30cm from the flow to awaken the natural carbonation. Then, he prompted me to do likewise. My glass filled, we clinked and toasted “Topa!” (Cheers!), then emptied our glasses.
“In this job, if you don’t drink cider there’s no point,” he said.
So we did it again.