Wednesday, 23 October 2013

Bodegas: Pedro Romero

The first we hear of the Romeros is in XVIII century Ronda (Malaga), where they had a great reputation and influence on bullfighting. We next hear of them in Huelva, now distillers making spirit to fortify wines. Around 1820, one Florencio Romero moved to Sanlucar and married a local girl called Angela Carranza.

Forty years later, in 1860, this great Sherry firm was established by their son, Vicente Romero Carranza. The firm started out, as most did then, by buying mature wines and establishing soleras in bought bodegas, in this case in the Calle Trasbolsa. With their distilling history, they started out with brandies destined for the Spanish Caribbean colonies, and with some success. Brandy was always important to the firm, and their brand Punto Azul was their best seller.

When Vicente died in 1890, his three sons, Vicente, Baldomero and Pedro Romero Villarreal continued with the business which they called Hijos de Vicente Romero Carranza, and started doing more with wine.  They owned a vineyard called Viña El Alamo, which was later sold, though the name continued as a brand. The company then bought in musts from local cooperatives.

In 1904 Pedro took over the entire business from his brothers, and gave his wife’s name, Aurora Ambrosse Lacave, to his finest Manzanilla pasada – Aurora. When he died in 1911, Aurora, of French descent, took over the business herself as her children, Aurora, Pedro and Fernando Romero Ambrosse, were still very young. It was not easy for a woman in such a traditional world, but she earned the respect of her peers simply for quality. Following her death, her children took over, naming the business Hijos de Pedro Romero Villarreal – Pedro Romero, which became simply Pedro Romero in 1953, and remained its name as an entirely family-owned business, in the hands of the sixth generation until the end. 

The last Romero was Pedro Romero-Candau, a brilliant lawyer in Sevilla. He took control of the bodega in the early 2000s and set about expansion. In 2006 turnover was 7 million euros - double the previous year, and in 2007 it reached 9 million. That year he bought  the local firm Gaspar Florido which is more of an almacenista, but which had important brands and stocks which would undoubtedly help with the expansion. He paid 6.5 million. However while all seemed well, it was not, and facing huge costs for finance the firm ended up in receivership owing 22 million, despite increased sales. Pedro himself owed even more and committed suicide in 2014.

The historic old bodegas, which covered 12,500 square metres, were situated in the Barrio Bajo (lower part) of Sanlucar, in the Banda Playa, very close to the estuary of the Guadalquivir and west-facing, opposite the protected marshland of the Coto Doñana. This allows access to the westerly winds which provide the essential fresh, moisture-laden air which allows ideal conditions for the flor. The firm also had a modern vinification plant on the road to El Puerto, which had all the stabilisation and bottling equipment as well as offices. The old bodegas were strictly for ageing.

Pedro Romero prided itself on being the most traditional bodega in Sanlucar. They still used egg white to fine (some) wines, and their capataz (cellar master) had been there over 50 years. After the collapse it took a long time to find a buyer for the bodegas, which are currently closed and mostly empty and desolate. Francisco Yuste bought Manzanilla Aurora and the brandies while Bodegas Alonso bought the Gaspar Florido wines.

Pedro Romero offered a complete Sherry range, which included brandy and vinegar. The Manzanilla Pasada Aurora went through no less than 25 criaderas before arriving at the solera, and even the vinegar went through 15!!

The Wines were:
Three Manzanillas:
Maria Cristina (@ 3years old);  Manz. Fina Pedro Romero (@ 5years old); Aurora (@ 9years old)
Viña El Alamo range:
Oloroso Cream, Dry, Medium, Amontillado, Moscatel, Pedro Ximenez
The VORS Gama Prestige range:
Amontillado Don Pedro Romero, Palo Cortado Hijo de Pedro Romero Villarreal; Oloroso Don Pedro Romero. These wines have an average age of over 50 years.
There were also four brandies and a rum. Oh yes, and an Oloroso flavoured with orange…

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