Saturday, 2 November 2013

The Man Who had a Dream: Antonio Pedro Barbadillo Romero and his Castillo de San Diego

Toto, as he was known among friends, returned to Bodegas Barbadillo in Sanlucar towards the end of the 1960’s after trips to Europe and the United States, where he had been impressed by some of the wines he had tasted. He described them as the perfect wines to accompany seafood, but there was nothing of their sort in Spain. The smooth character of these wines reminded him of the musts he used in the bodega to produce Manzanillas and Sherries.

The idea of producing such a wine slowly became a personal project. He began to conduct tests on fermentations in a Phillips fridge at home. The results looked promising, but the tests continued.

Later, he met the English directors of Harveys with whom he signed a wine supply contract. This obliged him to build a vinification plant in 1975, equipped with all the latest technology, in the Gibalbin area, which he thus put on the map. At last he had the facilities to produce the wine that he wanted, and, taking a bit of a risk, he launched the young white table wine which he first called “Vino Noble de Mesa”.

(Imagen Jerez Siempre)
The Consejo and many bodegas were furious: he was prohibited from making any mention on his labels of the Sherry area, as well as any oblique reference to it with names such as “Castillo de Sanlucar” or “Castillo de Santiago”. In the end he named his wine “Castillo de San Diego” after the street where the bodega was situated. He also argued that white table wine was nothing new in the Sherry area, and produced documents from the late XIX century to prove it.

It worked. It was a pioneering wine in every sense, and nothing like it had been produced in Andalucia. At the beginning of the 1980’s, something happened which gave Castillo de San Diego the boost it needed. Felix Cabeza, founder of the excellent Madrid fish restaurant “La Dorada”, tried the wine and was so delighted with it that he made it his house wine. It became so popular that it was soon the best-selling white wine in Spain. And it remains so today.

Toto had a long and distinguished career in Sanlucar. He had a degree in law, but his future was the wine trade. Among his many jobs were company secretary to Bodegas Infantes de Orleans Borbon, president of Williams & Humbert, founding secretary to CAYDSA and president of Barbadillo and Pedro Romero.

He was related, of course, to the Romeros and the Barbadillos, and it was said of him that he was born among the manzanilla soleras. By nature he was charming, jovial and intelligent, and got along with anyone. His workforce loved him, as he loved his native land and its wines. He could prop up the bar for 24 hours! 

His view was that manzanilla was the wine of liberty; it was drunk at court in Cadiz, becoming more the wine of the people after the brief constitution of Cadiz. Along with Juan Carlos Barbadillo, Toto set up the Orden de la Solear (after their most popular brand) to recover the notion of a romantic Andalucia, in which manzanilla was the drink which brought people together.

The 3rd of January 2005 was a sad day for Sanlucar when Toto passed away from a heart attack. By now he was an Hijo Predilecto of Sanlucar (a great honour) and held the gold medal for the defence of the culture of Wine.

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