Monday, 22 May 2017

An Interesting Interview with Francisco Guerrero, President of the Growers

Just as almacenistas have all but ceased to exist, independent growers in the Sherry zone are in danger of extinction. Apathy and discontent are rife among the growers who are not cooperative members. They number around 60 and control some 2,000 hectares, nearly a third of the total under vine, vineyards which the trade cannot allow to be lost. But these vines are ageing quickly because of the impoverished state of their owners, who are unable to make the slightest investment. Asevi-Asaja, the association of independent growers, estimates that at least half are less than 10 years old, and the vines have a commercial life of up to 30 years. Francisco Guerrero, the association president, says the problem is that the vineyards have been unprofitable for years because the price of grapes is too low. There is no spare cash to repair machinery, tractors are literally falling to bits and in small vineyards it doesn’t pay to contract outside help.

After a long period of distance between the growers and the bodegas association, Fedejerez, Asevi has spent the last year trying to renew contact and succeeded in arranging a day of talks between the two parties just before last week’s Feria. According to Guerrero another meeting is expected at the end of June or the start of July to improve the exchange of ideas and seek solutions, the main one being that the grape price has to be fair and reasonable.

One way to earn more from vineyards (foto:Pascual/diariodejerez)

After a small and not particularly good harvest which endured heavy rain in May followed by mildew, the growers are facing another year of uncertainty because of more Levante wind than usual. Last year they suffered its drying and crop-reducing effects for more than a month in July and August, and they fear it will return this year.

After the massive uprooting of excess vineyard subsidised by Brussels which reduced the area of vineyard from 1,050 hectares to the current 6,500, the area managed to reach a balance between supply and demand. But if this year also produces a small crop there will be a supply problem. Naturally the bodegas need to replace their stocks but, as there is currently no overstock, the grape price will shoot up, and nobody wants that. Guerrero explains that in the late 1980s and early 1990s the price shot up from 82 pesetas to 100 (from 50 to 60 céntimos) and that was bad for the trade.

“We want a reasonable price, ideally 40-45 céntimos instead of the current 34-36 céntimos”, says Guerrero, who insists that “after achieving a balance of supply and demand, the trade cannot allow the loss of a further 2,000 hectares. Fedejerez understands the situation and has raised the price for the coming harvest, but it is still not enough”. Meanwhile the bodegas argue that they can’t offer more as the wine itself is not profitable either.

Although Sherry and Manzanilla are enjoying better times, in which little by little prices and sales values are recovering, BOB (buyer’s own brand) is still selling in large volumes and at very low margins, which is chipping away at profitability. The recent growth of Sherry corresponds to the leading brands and the VOS and VORS wines, but the turning point has not yet been reached because of the scale of the BOB trade. It seems that Bodegas and growers alike are condemned to put up with it.

“This year there has been a bit more movement in purchasing by the big bodegas, but only four of them are buying grapes”, says Guerrero, adding that “although the bodegas own some vineyard, it is the minimum possible as they are not interested in large tracts of it either. As they say here “La viña y el potro, que los críe otro” (vineyards and colts – let someone else raise them).

The situation in the vineyards has been bad for years. Six or seven years ago the grape price was the lowest in Spain – a mere 15 céntimos. The current situation is different; along with the Sherry “boom” the growers see other possibilities such as cask seasoning for whisky which is in great demand, or Jerez Vinegar, demand for which seems unstoppable.

Asevi believes there is a lack of motivation to seek other markets for their production, such as concentrated must or alcohol for Solera Gran Reserva brandies, the superior category, made from Palomino grapes. “We need to apply more pressure because to produce concentrated must and alcohol for brandy we would need at least 15,000 hectares more vineyard, a considerable figure when one takes into account that not a single hectare of vines has been planted for four years.

Guerrero says that now is the time to really back the vineyards. The average age of the growers is over 50 years, and they will not be replaced by their children, as the few who do choose to work vineyards do so through the more profitable Vinos de la Tierra de Cádiz rather than Sherry.


Of the alternatives to unprofitable vines available to the growers, the olive is currently the most attractive, partly for the rising price of olive oil and partly because they grow well in the area. Francisco Guerrero recalls that the olive was the natural substitute for the vine after Phylloxera at the end of the XIX century. Cultivation of the olive is undergoing considerable expansion in the Jerez countryside, and vine growers are looking at it seriously, since there are certain similarities with the vine in terms of cultivation. Guerrero cites the case of a 25 hectare vineyard on the Trebujena road which was converted to olives and is now about to double in size due to the high profitability of olives. And that is not the only alternative; almonds now proliferate in the Trebujena area in soils which bore vines until recently.

This interview by Á Espejo was published in today’s Diario de Jerez

Sunday, 21 May 2017

Granujales 2015 13%, Viña Granujales

Bright pale gold with light legs.
Very fresh and fairly delicate yet with a pronounced Moscatel aroma with hints of mandarine, tea, a hint of blossom and, well, grapiness. Moscatel is high in terpenes which make it so aromatic.
Dry, light and fresh with moderate acidity and full of the above aromas. Very easy and pleasant drinking which leaves a long clean tasty Moscatel finish.
Made from 100% Moscatel Grano Menudo, a small berried and slightly more aromatic version of the grape, picked manually during the first week of August at the Granujales vineyard near Prado del Rey, Cádiz. It was bottled for Viña Granujales by Salvador Rivero Nuñez, proprietor of nearby Bodegas Rivero, famous for Pajarete and also table wine producers. New, smarter packaging has been designed for the next vintage.
9.30, Licores Corredera

Saturday, 20 May 2017

Bebidas Esprituosas

This Spanish term translates as “spirit drinks” which in its broadest sense covers brandy, whisky, gin etc. However in Spain it is used for certain lower strength brandy-like drinks. Some 95% of Spanish brandy is Brandy de Jerez, the only Spanish brandy with a DO, which began to be produced in large quantities at the end of the XIX century. Its huge popularity saved many bodegas from potential ruin during times of slump for Sherry, but times change. The Spanish government increased the Impuesto Especial sobre el Alcohol y Bebidas Derivadas (or alcohol tax) in 2002 leading sales to stagnate. At the same time raw material costs were rising and the EU decided to stop giving grants for distillation of potable alcohol. All this led to a bit of a crisis as increased brandy prices would harm not only sales but competitivity with other spirits.

In 2009 Osborne and González Byass, soon to be followed by others, took the bold decision to convert their basic solera brandies to bebidas espirituosas. These drinks are not controlled by the Consejo Regulador Brandy de Jerez, so there is much less regulation. They can be sold at a lower strength than the minimum 36ᴼ for brandy, thereby reducing tax, there is no minimum ageing requirement, and no minimum content of holandas. They don’t even have to be distilled from wine, and while most are, at least mainly, there is some spirit made from molasses and even beetroot around. The spirit must be of agricultural origin.

The budget of the Consejo Regulador Brandy de Jerez was badly hit, and for two reasons. Firstly, since much of its income depends on a levy on sales of DO brandy, it began to receive much less as bebidas espirituosas are not technically brandy. Secondly the brandies which had been converted to bebidas espirituosas were all basic solera brandies and being the cheaper ones they were best sellers, accounting for 75% of all brandy sales and 90% of sales in the home market.

There was a bit of controversy about the branding of these new drinks, as they used exactly the same labels as used before for brandy, with only slight changes in wording. The less observant consumer was unlikely to spot the difference, but if they did they might feel cheated. The Consejo, however, felt that such commercial decisions were for the bodegas alone. Bebidas espirituosas are not so bad; they are aged in soleras, albeit very briefly, and are useful substitutes for the real thing in cocktails. They are not much cheaper than brandy solera though, only a euro or two, but perhaps Brandy de Jerez should follow the path of Sherry, selling smaller quantities of superior quality at a higher price.

The following were all big selling brandies before “conversion”
Veterano (Osborne)
Soberano (González Byass)
Decano (Caballero)
501(Carlos & Javier de Terry, now made by Osborne)
Centenario (Fernando A de Terry, now Fundador) offered as Brandy de Jerez Solera as well!
103 Etiqueta Blanca (Bobadilla, now Osborne) 
Real Tesoro (Marqués del Real Tesoro, now Grupo Estévez)
Felipe II (Agustin Blázquez, now Osborne)

Friday, 19 May 2017

19.5.17 International Wine Challenge 2017 Gold Medals for Sherry

In the 34th edition of the prestigious IWC competition, Spain scored even better than last year with a total of 647 medals and 433 recommendations. Of the 72 gold medals, an amazing 35 were awarded to Sherries. In all, Sherry won 109 medals when gold, silver and bronze are included, meaning that nearly one third of the medals won by Sherry were gold. The trophy winners and best wines of the competition will be published soon; meanwhile the gold medal winners are as follows:

Tradición CZ 
Amontillado VORS, Oloroso VORS, Palo Cortado VORS, PX VOS
Bodegas Diez Mérito
Bertola Palo Cortado 12, Oloroso Victoria Regina VORS, PX Vieja Solera VORS
González Byass
Cuatro Palmas, Tres Palmas, Una Palma, Amontillado del Duque, Noé PX VORS
Bodegas Fundador
Harveys Amontillado, Harverys Palo Cortado, Harveys Oloroso
Solera 1842 Oloroso Abocado
Hidalgo La Gitana
Manzanilla Pasada Pastrana, PX Triana
Bodegas Yuste
Amontillado Conde de Aldama, Argüeso Manzanilla San León
Bodegas Barbadillo
Manzanilla Solear
Bodegas Lustau
Fino Jarana, Amontillado VORS, Oloroso VORS, Palo Cortado VORS, PX VORS, Palo Cortado Almacenista Cayetano del Pino, PX San Emilio. Then the BOBs: Very Rare Dry Old Amontillado (for Marks & Spencer), Very Rare Oloroso (for Marks & Spencer), The Best Oloroso (for Morrisons), The Best Palo Cortado (for Morrisons), Waitrose Fino (for Waitrose), Waitrose Manzanilla (for Waitrose), Berry Bros. & Rudd Fino ( for Berry Bros. & Rudd)

To demonstrate how well Sherry did, Rioja only got 15 golds, Cava 2, and Ribera del Duero none. Sherry scored a further 36 Silver, 22 Bronze and 16 recommendations. Impressive!

Thursday, 18 May 2017

Oloroso Los Caireles 18.5%, Bodegas Portales Pérez

Bright deep amber/light mahogany with copper glints, legs.
Forthcoming with gentle toasty oak notes, traces of caramel, cinnamon, walnut and orange with a saline, slightly savoury backbone which quickly locates its origin in Sanlúcar. It has a certain complexity, changing slightly with every sniff, but always positively, which gives real character.
Fairly full bodied at first then some tangy acidity comes through, lots of nuts, clean, saline and generous. As the impact subsides the palate is left with a very smooth, satisfying flavour of nuts with a trace of cinnamon and a long clean finish.
This bodega is not well known outside Sanlúcar, but certainly deserves to be. They make good honest wines by artisan methods and have done so for five generations, during most of which they were almacenistas to some of the best bodegas. This Oloroso has an average age of about 8 years coming from a very old solera which has two criaderas, all in very old butts, and the wine is good.
8 euros ex bodega

Wednesday, 17 May 2017

Manzanilla Pasada 8 15%, Mar 7

Pale strawy gold with bright golden highlights, legs.
Forthcoming and super fresh. Traces of wild herbs and flowers mix with a powerful saline kick behind which there are notes of bitter almond, flor and tantalising traces of cabezuela. Quite racy and maritime yet vivatious and absolutely classic Manzanilla.
A lot of flavour in an elegant package. It starts off as a good Manzanilla with relatively low acidity but keeps on developing on the palate with very dry, more intense salty cabezuela notes with a faint hint of butter and only a faint trace of oxidation. The flor must have been vigorous. Lovely.
This elegant Manzanilla was produced and bottled  for María José Romero, owner of Mar 7, by Delgado Zuleta. It was aged for at least eight years in their bodegas and selected by María José for its quality and freshness. Some of her wines are bottled for her and some are brought in bulk to her beautiful, atmospheric, traditional old bodega, the one where Pedro Romero started out, and they are filled into 80 year old butts so she can sell them on draught. Don't miss a visit to Mar 7 if you're in Sanlúcar, it is in Calle Mar, 7, opposite Bodegas Argüeso.
13 euros from Mar 7

Tuesday, 16 May 2017

An Interview with Francisco Yuste

At the beginning of the 1990s Francisco Yuste Brioso started out in the world of wine as an almacenista. What began as a hobby soon became a major part of his business. As a distributor of Pepsi cola, along with Estrella Galicia beer, he adopted the Pepsi blue as his trademark colour, and it now appears on all the bodegas he has recuperated over the years. As a native of Sanlúcar he champions Manzanilla as an important part of the town’s heritage, and he has fiercely criticised various bodies which form part of the Denominación de Origen which, in his view, should be independent of Jerez. He currently owns some 10,000 butts, mostly Manzanilla destined for bulk sale to horeca. The damages caused by the Fedejerez prohibition of the bag in box (BIB) is one of the matters raised in this interview, as well as his exclusive revelation of the existence of an investor for an urban development project linked to Bodegas Argüeso in Calle Mar.

Francisco Yuste in Bodega Miraflores (foto:Blanca Cores)

The Feria in Sevilla has recently ended, one of the events where most Manzanilla is sold. Why did you decide not to participate?
We did participate. In fact there were some twenty casetas (out of over 1,000) with Manzanilla San León. But what we don’t do is slash the prices like some bodegas do, so the casetas go looking for a better price. The last time Argüeso participated we lost 18,000 euros, and we are not about losing money.

This price war, are you the only one resisting?
Various bodegas have taken the same decision. If someone likes San León, let them have it but at the normal price at which it is sold to horeca all year round. What we can’t do is give away samples, pay for hostesses and sell at silly prices. You can’t do that.

We are awaiting the Court’s ruling on BIB. What will it mean for the bodegas if they can’t sell wine in this container?
Not selling in BIB is a big problem. We sell a lot of wine in bulk, and are currently selling it in garrafas but the trade doesn’t like them. The judge who ordered the ban on BIB has no idea of the damage it is causing the small bodegas. It is totally unjust because the BIB is better for transport, is more hygienic and keeps the wine in good condition. And it is more economical.

You have put yourself forward, or have been put forward, as the defender of BIB yet you also defend the bottle and the quality it implies which is the Fedejerez argument…
Our bodegas are investing in bottling, in brand image and in creating more brands, but we also consider it stupid to be opposed to BIB. It is like opposing cars with round wheels. In a few years we will be laughing at this opposition to the BIB. What I don’t understand is how the BIB was banned after a plenary of the Consejo Regulador decided not to go against the report of the Junta’s Agriculture Department, and the big bodegas went to court without even sitting down to talk with most of the Manzanilla bodegas. In other parts of the world 50-60% of wines are being sold in BIB simply because it preserves the wine much better. In France, which is famous for quality and image, the figure is at least 38%. The reality is that there is only one gentleman stubbornly against BIB, but the rest of the big bodegas have to follow suit because they are selling in BIB.

Your business career as a bodeguero is characterised by your defence of Manzanilla. Do you believe that the interests of this unique wine from Sanlúcar are poorly represented?
Manzanilla is not represented in the Consejo Regulador. Of over 20 members, only one represents Manzanilla and he is manipulated by the other big bodegas, so that’s why this is happening to us. I think the Junta de Andalucía should take this into account when it produces the new Reglamento. It’s not normal that we sell more than 50% of the wine yet the big bodegas are better represented. We small bodegas of Sanlúcar are lucky to have Manzanilla, a unique authentic wine but not very well known. But when it is known there will be a shortage of wine to supply the market, and we will likely see that happen this year because some will have problems obtaining mosto since we are selling more and more which will lead to a shortage.

Last year Manzanilla was ahead in sales on the home market, but not abroad. What strategy is being adopted to conquer the export markets?
The Sherry they drink in the foreign markets is mostly Cream or Medium, not what we drink here. We sell Manzanilla and the big bodegas sell other wines to the export markets. In Spain we are already at 70-30 Manzanilla-Fino, which is enough. We have the home market but we can’t promote ourselves abroad because promotional funding is controlled by the Consejo Regulador which is the same as Fedejerez, so we can’t do anything. We sell wherever we can sell.  Until the Government decides to do something we can’t do anything here. Outside Spain what is promoted is Sherry, not Manzanilla de Sanlúcar, so it is unknown in many markets.

Recently the wine journalist José Peñín visted Argüeso and he said in an interview that Sanlúcar needed its own DO and to separate itself from Jerez. Do you share his view?
If the big bodegas continue with what they are doing, Sanlúcar will have no choice but to create its own Consejo Regulador, after all we already have a DO Manzanilla-Sanlúcar Barrameda, although some bodegas choose to use the DO Jerez. We cannot be in the hands of the big bodegas; it is now a question for the competition authorities. They impose the laws and they control the Consejo, whose vice president is also president of Fedejerez; it is crazy how they have everything tied up. Finally, and I hope I am wrong, the competition authority will arrive and there will be new sanctions, which would be bad for the image. I have the impression that the Consejo is not independent, it should be keeping an eye on certain bodegas and saying what is Manzanilla and what is not. They are doing us damage bottling wines which don’t resemble Manzanilla, and if we had a Consejo in Sanlúcar, they would be unlikely to reach the market.

What do you mean saying it is not Manzanilla?
There are two wines: Manzanilla or Fino. Even in Sanlúcar there are some bodegas which make Fino. Manzanilla is a wine which has a permanent veil of flor, but in some bodegas the flor is not permanent, and there is some oxidation. That is the difference.

Do you mean to say that the controlling bodies are neglecting their duties?
As I see it the controlling bodies are used too much against us, against the small bodegas - and since this will be published I can expect three inspections. The BIB affair is a total injustice; we’ll see who pays for it because there will be damages and losses. I think the battle will be won sooner or later, but we’ll see who will pay for the damage it is doing to the small bodegas who are selling much less.

It will soon be a year since you bought Bodegas Argüeso. How do you assess this acquisition and the line of business you have undertaken?
Now I have got my teeth into it I would say that it is the best bodega in the area; one which has the least money but one which owes the least and is selling ever more. Sales are better than I had expected and so is the local demand for Argüeso. I am giving the bodega what it needs; a lot of care and a lot of wine, San León is what is selling, La E also…we are consistently selling more without cutting prices. We have solved many of the problems the bodega had since it had been without effective management for some ten years. The staff are helping a lot despite signing an agreement for a substantial reduction in salaries, as they are well aware that such salaries were unsustainable. Everyone is helping to ensure things go well.

You have also recuperated some brands which were at the point of disappearing like the Pedro Romero Punto Azul Brandy. Can you also recuperate the essence of these bodegas rather than a mere business transaction?
For me wine started as a hobby because it was such a shame to see bodegas closing. What I have done is to buy them and keep them. I am a great wine collector. I have been lucky enough to be able to recuperate the great wines these bodegas contained. Now we have the Amontillado Conde de Aldama, or the Pedro Romero brandies led by Punto Azul… and many other brands we have recuperated. Carbajo, Los 48, Pedro Romero, Sainz de Baranda… Now it can no longer be a hobby because we have some 10,000 butts and we have to start thinking like a wine business, and thus all the things we are doing.

The house you live in, a former bodega, won the prize for the best mansion house patio in the city…
(Laughs) Yes, yes, since 1989 when I bought Santa Ana I have been restoring some of the city’s patrimony, but of greater value is restoring jobs. Thanks to the Yuste companies 250 people are now working.

You were also talking about buying some bodega in Jerez. Is anything happening?
We are looking at Jerez because we also need to sell Fino, so we are looking there. Here we are concentrating on new products especially in the world of spirits with Limoncello, ponche, products which had lying been forgotten in the bodegas.

Any projects linked to wine tourism?
The most important wine tourism project in Sanlúcar at the moment is in Calle Mar. We want to put more value on the heritage of the XVI century convent there, creating a musem of the sea, of Manzanilla, it remains to be seen. Above all we want to conserve the panelled ceilings from 1540 which have been declared of cultural interest. We are looking at it with the town council and the Junta to see how we can restore the convent’s cloisters, a real treasure. Each beam there could easily be sold at Sothebys for a million euros. That is what needs to be restored and what I am doing with the bodega heritage of Sanlúcar. By selling wine you are selling history, and to sell it you need to preserve it. That costs a lot of money.

Are you discussing public finance?
We are trying to get public help but I don’t know what sort. In fact in Calle Mar there is a project which has been around for a while which has council and Junta approval and was championed by the former owners who seem to want to revive it. It is a nice project for a hotel there which respects all the bodega buildings. There are various companies, but one above all, which is trying to develop the project, and things are at an advanced stage for it to go ahead with private capital. Argüeso as owners of the site, will play their part but companies from elsewhere will do the work.

What do you think of the latest prizes your wines have won at CINVE?
The prizes and recognition we are receiving give us great pride and motivation to keep growing. The Argüeso San León, the Yuste Aurora and La Kika and of course the very old wines of Conde de Aldama and the Pedro Romero Punto Azul brandy are benchmarks for the highest quality in the DOs Manzanilla-Sanlúcar de Barrameda, Jerez-Xérès-Sherry and Brandy de Jerez. The best prize of all is to see how every day our client base is growing in Spain, and of course around the world, in countries like Australia, Mexico, Japan or the United States, and also in the more traditional markets like the United Kingdom.

This interview by Cristina Cruz was published 15/5/17 in andalucíainformació