Monday, 1 December 2014

Bodegas: El Maestro Sierra

At the beginning of the XIX century a master cooper aptly named Jose Antonio Sierra - a sierra is a “saw” (or mountain range) ran a successful firm called La Merced supplying butts to the various bodegas. Fellow coopers admired his skill and he was nicknamed “Maestro” Sierra. While coopering is close to wine it is not quite the same, and he dreamed of establishing his own bodega. This he did in 1830, acquiring a magnificently-sited bodega in what was then the outskirts of Jerez in the Plaza Silos, where the bodega remains to this day, on high ground open to the Poniente (west wind) and still resolutely in family hands. It contains some 800 butts.

Jose Antonio died without issue and the bodega passed to his niece, Carmen Casal Soto who, when she lost her husband soon after, formed a company with her children, one of whom, Antonio Borrego Casal took charge of the bodega. Under his control, the bodega earned a good reputation, though not without enduring hard times.

When he died in 1976 his widow, Doña Pilar Pla Pechovierto, inherited the bodega and has run it ever since. In those days smaller bodegas could not market their wines on their own account and acted as almacenistas selling their wine to bigger bodegas.  Fino went to Gonzalez Byass and Oloroso to Domecq, both of whom took ages to pay. Some Maestro Sierra Oloroso was sold to Lustau who marketed it under the Lustau Almacenista label as “Viuda de Antonio Borrego”. The rules changed in 1992 however, and they were free to bottle and market their own wine. As is the case with many bodegas, El Maestro Sierra buys in ready fermented musts from the Cooperative Nuestra Senora de las Angustias with whom they have been doing business for years.

Back in the 1970s it was unusual, not to say slightly frowned-upon for a woman to run a bodega, and the capataz was usually left to run things, but Pilar was more than up to the job, despite the macho Sherry world of the time making things difficult. Now she runs it with her daughter (and fifth generation) Carmen Borrego who has a doctorate in history of the Americas and has written various books on the subject, and on wine as well but now works full time at the bodega with just as much commitment as her mother. Both are now held in great respect as are their wines. In fact Maestro Sierra is in the top 100 best wineries in the world having received much favourable critical acclaim with scores in the 90s.

Pilar with Juan Clavijo 
The passage of time has proved the skill of the founder as many of the bodega’s variously sized butts which he made are still in use, identified by his mark carved into each one. Little has changed in nearly 200 years and all the bodega work is done by hand by oenologist Ana Cabestrero and capataz Juan Clavijo. Some cooperage is still done, but more in the way of repairs. The bodega has a despacho de vinos (shop). All the wines are bottled with minimal filtration and labelled by hand. This is a classic old fashioned bodega with outstanding wines made by outstanding people.

The wines:
VORS: Amontillado 1830, Palo Cortado, Oloroso 1/14, Oloroso Extraviejo 1/7, PX Viejísimo, all have at least 50 years solera age.

Fino (@ 5 years old), Fino en Rama, Amontillado 12 years old, Oloroso 15 years old, PX over 5 years old, Amoroso Medium about 18 years old and Cream around 18 years old.

The Bodega also makes a superb Brandy Solera Gran Reserva aged around 25 years in used Oloroso and PX butts.

Visits?  Not open to the public
Address: Plaza de Silos, 5, 11403 Jerez de la Frontera, Cádiz, Spain
Telephone: (+34) 956 342 433


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