Thursday, 26 July 2012

Bodegas: Harveys

The name Harveys is synonymous with Sherry, and their Bristol Cream was once the biggest selling brand. Times and tastes have changed and now Tio Pepe is the biggest selling brand. Bristol Cream is still a big seller however and a high quality wine, though most of their other brands are long forgotten. Does anyone remember Merienda, Isabelita, Club Amontillado, Bristol Dry, Reina Victoria, Shooting Sherry, Bank, Gran Solera, Tico, Luncheon Dry, Copper Beech, Bristol Fino, Bristol Milk (of which there used to be a fantastic driven-cork version for laying down like Port)?

The firm was established at 12, Denmark Street, Bristol in 1796 by one William Perry in cellars on the site of what was once a XIII century monastery and later a medieval wine cellar known as Gaunt House. From the beginning, Perry specialised in the shipping of Sherry and Port, but also dealt in Madeira and wines from the Rhine and the Canaries. Naturally he sold Bristol Milk, a sweetened oloroso which was very popular in Bristol, the earliest written record (in the British Museum) of which goes back to 1634.

John Harvey (1806-78) whose father and grandfather were celebrated seafarers, joined the firm in 1822 at only 16 years of age. William Perry died about this time. In 1829, John joined an associated firm in Kidderminster, ten miles or so distant. He moved there, married and lived above the shop, while his younger brother Charles took over his post in Bristol. The cellars were extended to reach Bristol docks from where butts of Sherry and Port were trundled along tunnels to their cellars. The mainly oloroso and PX Sherry was imported in butts and aged in Bristol till deemed ready for sale or blending.

The early 1860's were important years for the company. John, with his other brother Edward had been perfecting a new blend which included an even older oloroso than that in Bristol Milk. No name had been decided for it, however. One day in 1882, an aristocratic lady who was visiting the cellars, tasted their Bristol milk and comparing it to the latest blend declared that "If the first is Bristol Milk, then this must be the Cream!" Bristol Cream was born, and went on to phenomenal success throughout the "sweet Sherry era".

John Harvey, having taken over the firm, decided to re-name it John Harvey & Sons in 1871, and his two sons, John and Edward worked with him, taking over after his death in 1878. The firm remained in family hands through their sons till 1966. Bristol Cream was registered as a trademark in 1882, and in 1895 they received the Royal Warrant. The XX century saw a younger generation join the firm and much needed modernisation was undertaken. Their first publicity campaign took place.

The original cellars in Denmark Street 1916

The Second World War hit Harveys hard. Not only were the (by now more extensive) premises at Denmark Street bombed in 1940 destroying all but the cellars, but their London offices were hit as well - twice. In the 1950s they moved to new premises in the outskirts of Bristol at Whitchurch. The last of the Harveys retired in 1956. Up till 1960, all Harveys Sherries were still matured and blended in Bristol, but it was decided to start investing in vineyards to secure supplies. In the meantime the old Denmark Street cellars were converted into a successful restaurant (by Sir Terence Conran) with a wine museum attached. The cellars have been completely refurbished and are now an upmarket Sherry bar and restaurant, still with a little museum, supported but no longer owned by Harveys. The firm's collection of glass bottles was largely auctioned off but some are still to be seen here and much was transported to exhibition space in Spain.

Part of the restored Harveys Cellars wine bar

Bristol Cream had reached the number 1 sales spot by the early 1950's, it had launched with great success in America, and Harveys were doing well. Then in 1956 they began to receive letters, written with the aid of a dictionary,which were short and to-the-point. Thirty-three letters were received in all, each with a proposal that someone they had never heard of enter into an exclusive wine supply contract with them. (Harveys needed 96,000 butts per year!) Naturally Harveys refused. But the letters kept coming, and eventually Harveys sent two executives - chairman George Edward McWatters and his right-hand-man, a Mr Cox - to Jerez to silence the writer. They returned having signed a 99 year supply contract with Jose Maria Ruiz Mateos! This contract effectively launched the Rumasa empire.

The wave of mergers and acquisitions which was the 1960s did not leave Harveys unscathed. Showerings, who had made a fortune with Babycham bought the firm at the end of 1965. Aware of a need to be based in Jerez, they went on to buy MacKenzie, whose bodegas Harveys then occupied, and 50% of Barbadillo. The Rumasa contract was terminated giving Rumasa three years' grace.

Showerings were in turn taken over by Allied Breweries in 1968. In 1973, Harveys founded two jointly owned businesses; one, Vinarvey, with Garvey and the other, Gibalbin, with Barbadillo, giving Harveys access to large areas of vineyard. 1978 saw the merger of Allied Breweries with Lyons forming Allied Lyons. In 1979 Harveys bought Misa from Rumasa, and after the expropriation of Rumasa in 1983, they bought Terry and Palomino & Vergara. During this period Harveys lost the way a bit with some odd brand launches (eg Tico) and suffered a lack of investment from their parent companies, but during the 1990s they did relaunch Bristol Cream in the Bristol Blue bottle, which remains today. 

Allied Lyons then merged with Pedro Domecq in 1994, and Allied Domecq was taken over by Pernod Ricard in 2005. They went on to dismember Domecq, selling bits to different companies, and Harveys went to Fortune Brands' drinks division Beam Global, along with Terry and Domecq's Fundador brandy. Beam went on to merge with Japanese distiller Suntory, and in 2015 Harveys, along with Fundador was sold to the Philippine distiller Emperador.

Since 1970, Harveys have operated entirely in Jerez from various bodegas:  El Brigadier which contains 6,000 butts destined for Bristol Cream, La Mezquita, La Molina 1730, and La Luz (Fundador Brandy) the latter 3 all ex Domecq.

The current range consists of:

Extra Dry Fino                                                        Harveys Palo Cortado VORS (solera 1906)
Pale Cream                                                             Amontillado VORS (solera 1914)
Amontillado Medium                                               Rich Old Oloroso VORS (solera 1909)
Bristol Cream                                                          PX VORS (solera 1919)

The VORS wines were launched as recently as 2008 and in 2016 a new Premium range was launched.

Visits can be arranged by appointment:
C/ San Ildefonso, 3
11403 Jerez de la Frontera, Cadiz
Tel: (+34) 956 151 500

Bodega La Mezquita


  1. Hello! I recently helped my Auntie by cleaning out her liquor cabinet. I found an unopened bottle of Harvey's Bristol Cream. There are no identifying dates on the bottle but it does say it was shipped and bottled by Jahn Harvey & Sons Limited, 12 Denmark Street, Bristol, England. Founded 1796. The bottle is green and the label is ivory colored with burgundy lettering. From the pictures I have seen it dates to 1950-1960 or so. Should we open it and drink it? Or is it valuable unopened? Thank you!!!

  2. We found a bottle of importedo Harvey's extra superior golden sherry Bristol milk the glass bottle itself has est 1790 Harvey's ingaved on the bottle itself Bristol milk is in dark blue bottle is dark green and the label is a cream colored. Can someone please help me find out something about this bottle the top is dark blue also has not be'en opened