Fuente Guijarro is one of the most incredible agricultural projects I’ve ever witnessed.
My first visit to meet Manuel Moreno and Sara Bertani of Fuente Guijarro was in April 2019 and, having been so blown away by what I saw, tasted and learned, I returned in October that year to taste the first ciders from the 2019 harvest. I’d first heard about Fuente Guijarro back in 2017 or ’18 and had read about the old varieties of apple they worked with, the remoteness of the farm and cidery and the extraordinary altitude at which they farmed and worked.
I made the visit with my good friend Nico Clerc of Telescope Café in Paris. We had caught the train that morning from Malaga to Madrid, hired a car and driven east in the sparse and remote foothills of the Sierra Nevada. We met Manuel and Sara at a café in Mecina Bombaron, drank a beer together and then we followed them up the road to the house and cidery.
Well, at no stage were we prepared for the car trip from that lovely village, itself at a pretty high altitude, to the house at Fuente Guijarro. We followed very slowly in our hired car for almost an hour. The drive is steep and on very loose gravel along a series unnamed roads with the view behind us becoming more and more dramatic and wide.
By this time a shadow was falling over the mountain and the air was becoming very fine and crisp. Manuel and Sara welcomed us to the house and we then sat down and enjoyed for the first ever time a glass of Fuente Guijarro cider. From here on the verandah, where on a clear day you can see easily all the way to Africa, we tasted one of the most ethereal, delicate yet powerful, meditative yet delicious and seemingly hydrating drinks I’d ever tasted.
Manuel came to this extreme and remote area with the idea of growing high altitude grapes and also of growing and sourcing two super rare and potent medicinal herbs, Manzanilla Real and Thé de Sierra Nevada. He discovered that the altitude in this area was just too extreme for farming wine and it was soon then illegal to pick the super rare herbs due to their scarcity. In the same time he discovered three ancient cider orchards in which, he learned, grew some of the rarest apple varieties on earth. So rare, in fact, that Manuel discovered that two of the varieties, Don Manuel and Carmueso, had been declared completely extinct by the Botanic Garden of Cordoba.
There was one tree of each variety still growing Manuel’s orchard.
From the outset, Manuel has been fascinated with sparkling wine and the goal with cider was to make something very fine, very delicate and very pure.
Here is the staggering process of making cider with these ancient varieties at Fuente Guijarro
Before the weather turns freezing cold in late November, apples are harvested each day from 2am. At this time, there is lower yeast population on each apple. Manuel and Sara want to produce ultra pure cider that gains complexity from the varieties of apple, rather than the yeasts.
The fruit is then brought into the cidery and split by hand... It is then pipped by hand, crushed, lightly macerated and then pressed.
For each day of fermentation, Manuel and Sara take the lid off each small stainless tank, and very gently remove the top layer of solids from the top of the ferment. This is a painstaking process and is a very, very important contributor to the final super delicate aromas and flavours of Fuente Guijarro.
The 2018 Fuente Guijarro Ancestral is made up of 10 varieties of apple. Following pressing, it was run to bottle just before dryness. It finished its primary fermentation and then malolactic conversion in bottle creating the wonderful bubbles you taste today.
Over the years, Manuel and Sara have formed the opinion that, to grown the style of apples they need to make their particular style of cider, a region must have plenty of light and warmth to ripen apples but also around 1000 hours a year of temperatures beneath 5C. This allows for development of flavour but also retention of very high acidity – a feature that the pair consider a total necessity when working with bubbles.
A few weeks later, we were in the far south of Austria visiting one of our favourite wineries in the world, Schanbel and I explained the production process of Fuente Guijarro to Karl Schnabel, himself one of the greatest perfectionists I know.
Karl’s jaw dropped as I explained the scarcity of these apple varieties and the intensely artisan approach of Manuel and Sara’s production.
He seemed to squint and said...’Campbell......you must understand that this cider is a gift.....making cider like this is much, much more work than making wine......this is something very precious..’
Today, I don’t know of many agricultural products that have taken my breath away like Fuente Guijarro Sidra del Sur. The style is something so ethereal yet simultaneously deeply profound.
Fuente Guijarro cider will be featured in our upcoming May box. Use this link to sign up today.