Saturday, 26 April 2014

Bodegas: Pemartin

Julian Pemartin Rodis, born in Oloron in France in 1770, was a Frenchman who, like many others, had left France’s difficult political and social situation caused by the Revolution. He went to Spain while still a very young man and then spent 20 years in Mexico, where he made a fortune at the silver mines of Zacatecas. Instability and complicated politics in Mexico caused by the movement for independence from Spain, however, decided him to leave, and go back to Spain. He took out Spanish nationality in 1815 and married Mercedes Carolina Laborde Lafargue.

He already had relations in the Sherry area, who no doubt informed him that the Sherry trade was growing rapidly and would be a very profitable investment. He was by no means the only person returning from South America and setting up in business in Spain at that time.  Pemartin set up in business in Jerez in 1818 with a partner, Fermin de Apezechea, bought land and planted a vineyard at Cerro Nuevo in the Macharnudo.
They had Bodegas occupying a whole block at Calle Diego Fernandez Herrera, built in 1819 and known as El Cuadro. 

A corner of El Cuadro (Foto reilop.es)
Over the following 30 years, the business prospered, both as an almacenista and as an exporter. Julian’s brother in law, Manuel Lagarde joined the business, effectively running it, and in the early 1820s appointed George Sandeman as their agent in London. Julian became a member of the growing bourgeoisie of moneyed wine producers, and was one of the investors in the railway. In 1830 Fermin de Apezechea retired, (he died in 1836) and Julian was left sole owner of the firm. By about 1850 his bodegas held around 1,600 butts.

In 1853 Julian died, leaving the business to his 3 sons, Julian, Jose and Francisco. The elder, Julian Maria Pemartin Laborde (1816-1885), who had married Cristina Hernandez Boutrix was well known as a spendthrift. The firm had been the largest exporter in 1856, but by 1864 they were drawing large, and unauthorised credits from Sandeman while the quality of the wine was deteriorating. In 1866 he dissolved the company and re-started it on his own. Virtually from that moment, the company’s fortunes began to wane, and yet he felt that having seen such success in business, he should be showing it off.

Julian adorning his house (Foto Jerez Siempre)
He spent a fortune building a palatial home known as the Recreo de las Cadenas between the Calle Pizarro and the Avenida Duque de Abrantes. He and Cristina lived in Calle Porvera till it was completed. It is reputed to have been designed by French architect Charles Garnier (famous for the Paris Opera House and the Casino at Monte Carlo) but was more likely designed by another French architect, Samuel Revel, and completed in 1868. This fabulous palace possessed extensive botanic gardens with lakes, fountains and exotic plants. Julian entertained lavishly the great and the good of the day, even the King. The palace is now the headquarters of the Real Escuela del Arte Ecuestre - or Spanish riding school, whose installations are adjacent. It is a popular venue for weddings.

(Foto realescuela.org)
Having overstretched the firm, and despite being in the top ten exporters in 1869, Jose went spectacularly bust on the 28th June 1879 with debts of close to 4 million reales de vellon (units of currency introduced by Napoleon worth 2.5 to the Spanish Real), and owing Sandeman £10,000.

This level of debt to Sandeman gave them the right to the entire Pemartin business, including the bodegas, vineyards, soleras, and the palatial house, which was later sold to the Duque de Abrantes in 1927 after being used as a home for the resident partner, Walter J Buck. What they didn’t manage to acquire were the trademarks, and so had to pay royalties for their use until they bought them from his heirs in 1899. Julian had died, childless, in 1885.

The Pemartin creditors in Spain, however, re-started the firm, with Julian’s younger brothers under the name Jose Pemartin y Cia., and there was considerable acrimony as to who had more right to use the trademarks. This was eventually resolved amicably. The firm continued to trade until being taken over by Rumasa in 1959. After the collapse of Rumasa, the Government merged Pemartin with Bodegas Internacionales (BISA) in 1984 along with Misa, Bertola, Varela, Diestro and Otaolaurruchi. In 1994 BISA was bought by the Rioja businessman Marcos Eguizabal, who had already bought the ex Rumasa Rioja bodega Paternina from the Government. In early 2016 the Eguizabal heirs sold out to the local Espinosa family.

The once famous Pemartin brand is now all but moribund, except for a basic range of Fino, Amontillado, Oloroso, Cream and PX, as well as vinegar of that name.

Brands of the past include the Berisford Solera 1914 range in dumpy wired bottles, Royal Cream – in a silvered bottle, Brandy Numancia, Pemartin Vermouth.
The Pemartin family left a positive mark on Jerez, however:  Jose Pemartin (1888-1954) was a philosopher, and Julian Pemartin (1901-1966) wrote the famous Diccionario del Vino de Jerez. Another positive thing is that Sandeman have recently given their historic documents, and those of Pemartin, to the Jerez Municipal Archive, so they can now be studied by historians and academics - and receive better conservation.

Berisford Solera 1914




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