Thursday, 7 May 2015

An Interview with Alex Russan of Alexander Jules

(Interviewed by Carmen Quignon in La Voz Digital, Cádiz)

He moves among the butts of Sherry as if he had been born among them. At first sight nobody would say he was a Californian Sherry lover, he could pass for just another local who enjoys the local wines.  But the passion for such an old tradition has a name which doesn’t sound local: Alexander Jules. This is the brand name under which he markets in the USA the wines which he selects and which he fell in love with during his trips to Andalucía.

How did you get into this business and decide to create your own brand?
I have always been very involved in the world of wine, studying viticulture and oenology, tasting, making and enjoying wine for over a decade now. I seek out soleras which I like, taste from every butt in them, marking the ones which are most complex, profound or have a solera profile I want to accentuate, and I bottle blends of the wines from the selected butts. I then import them to the USA. I have also started importing wines and ciders from other producers from regions which offer great quality which are rarely seen in my country, and rare grape varieties. Tasting from butts of Sherry has always been my dream, knowing that they have been used for so long and that each one has developed its own personality. I thought I couldn’t be the only person interested in trying something like this, so I decided to do it and so Alexander Jules was born.

Alex Russan in his element (foto:lavozdigital)

How did you discover the wines of Jerez and what do you most value in them?
While at university I used to go to tastings organised by a local shop on Saturdays. One day there was a California “Sherry” called Rancho Philo. It was the most complex wine I had ever tried, and from then on I started to explore Sherry. What I most value about them is their aromas, for me they have always been very penetrating, and you only find that in Sherry.

What differences do you see between Spanish wines and American or other foreign wines, are there similarities?
One of the beautiful things about the wines from Spain and the Old Continent is that they come from regions which have been cultivating the same grape varieties for centuries, identifying the best parcels of land, grapes and methods of production. In the USA and other parts of the New World we are always looking for which grape is best in which soil in which area, how best to make it etc. It is a labour of exploration and experimentation, both of which make me emotional.

How is Sherry consumed in North America?
The people who drink Sherry in the USA are the wine fanatics. They drink it on its own or with various, not necessarily Spanish, dishes: Fino with sashimi, Amontillado with Chinese food etc., or in fashionable cocktails. There are always more Sherries to be seen in restaurants, above all the most modern ones.

Do you think Sherry is well promoted in Spain?
My impression is that outside the big cities there is not much Sherry to be seen, or even wines from outside the region one is in. Over the three years I have been visiting Jerez I have noticed more promotion and wines from various bodegas - not always the biggest – in more areas of the city.  When I go out I always look to see what people are drinking, and most are drinking beer.

How does the American market receive Sherry?
Now better than ever, but it continues to be a minority market. The majority of Americans who drink wine are looking for international varieties and stay with that, however some are now exploring Rioja, Cabernet etc., but their sales are growing at a slow pace. That said, there is increasing interest in more diverse places and many expert wine journalists are writing about them. Only a year ago I used to have to explain what a Sherry was and its grape varieties, but in the short time since, I hardly ever come across people who don’t know at least something about Sherry.

Which bodegas do you usually work with?
During the first round in 2013 I produced a Fino with Sánchez Romate and a Manzanilla and an Amontillado with Argüeso. Last year I produced a very old Oloroso from an abandoned bodega in El Puerto de Santa María. Now I am working on some new wines, a Fino and a Manzanilla from Juan Piñero.

Do you make your own wine in California?
Yes, this year I am going to start making a Monastrell and a Chardonnay. I might buy some very old vine Palomino and start up a little solera of Californian Oloroso for fun.

What is your favourite Sherry and food match?
I couldn’t possibly choose! When I visit Jerez I just drink the one style, be it Fino, Amontillado or Oloroso, and change the next time I visit. The best Sherry-food matches for me are beef cheek in Oloroso at Casa Gabriela in Jerez or ox tail or a cigar each with Oloroso.

What do you think of the gastronomy of Cádiz? Would it match with Californian wine?
I love it! It is one of the best parts of being able to visit Andalucía regularly. The food would match with certain California wines. There is a huge variety there, not all overripe and heavy. It would depend on the dish – there is a huge variety of Cádiz food as well.

What future projects are you planning?

To keep on with Alexander Jules and increase the range of wines I am importing from Spain. I also want to make wine from more districts of California, look out for what most attracts my attention, and for fun I have bought various vine varieties to experiment with hybridisation to see if I can create a new and interesting grape variety.

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