The harvest begins approximately in the second fortnight of October, although, of course, this depends on the ripeness of apple varieties, which in turn is influenced by each year’s weather. Apple picking is a process that still takes place almost entirely by hand.
Once the apples arrive at the scales, a first visual analysis is made (1), and those items that represent any abnormality (ripeness, lack of cleanliness, etc.) are rejected. Subsequently, the apples are washed with water from several pressure points (2) to remove any dirt adhering to them.
Apples then go through a selection process (3), where workers manually reject those that are not in optimal condition. Finally, the grinding mill carries out the pulping process. This is done with electric mills where the fruit must arrive clean and in good condition.
It is important to grade the pomace or crushed pulp (3), depending on varieties and their ripeness, to avoid it being too fine which would prevent the juice from coming out of the press through the small ducts, or too large, leaving uncrushed bits of apple.
From the grinding mill (4) the apple goes directly to the presses (6) or ‘lagares’ (wrings) (5). At this point, the first juice or sweet cider starts to collect at the base of the press, in vats ready for this purpose. Presses used can be wood or stainless steel hydraulic presses.
Once the press is filled with crushed apples and after leaving the pomace (pulp) to rest for some hours, the process of "cutting the wring” begins, which consists of a making a channel along the perimeter of the press, thus letting the juice out. The cut pulp is finally placed on top of the rest to be pressed again. After three or four days, in which this process is repeated, the completely squeezed pulp is extracted from the press.
After extraction of the juice, it is pumped into the chestnut or stainless steel barrels, where the sweet cider from the press can begin fermentation.
During the fermentation process the juice, through the action of yeasts together with bacteria in the environment, is transformed into cider, releasing carbon dioxide. During alcoholic fermentation, the sugars, fructose, etc., are transformed into a large number of components, most notably ethanol and CO2.
Fermentation takes place at a controlled temperature until the waning moons of January and February, when rotating decantation takes place to remove impurities and homogenise the cider. This process usually continues until the months of April or May. Periodic checks are made, among other processes, on the concentration of sugars, malic acid and other parameters in order to ascertain the progress of fermentation.
Diagrams of the Process
Process (1st part)