Sunday, 26 July 2015

An Interview with Manuel Lozano of Lustau

Juan P Simó talks to Lustau’s chief Oenologist in today's Diario de Jerez

Wine as it used to be. No noise, no fuss. He collected his seventh “Oscar” at the Park Lane Hilton hotel in London at midnight on Thursday in front of over a thousand world wine experts. Then he flew back to Jerez bearing his seventh consecutive World’s Best Fortified Winemaker award from the International Wine & Spirit Challenge. Manuel Lozano Salado (Jerez 1954) is calm, straightforward, serene, unchanging. He is not one for razzmatazz, just the day to day work in the bodega, as always. We are talking with a wine lover, mad about Sherry who has dedicated 40 years of his life to it.

Have you never changed?
I live in a regulated sort of way; I have the same friends as always, I buy the same medicine in the same pharmacy as always; I have a drink in the same bar as always however good it is, because life’s like that.

How did it all start?
I grew up in a restaurant environment. My parents had bars, restaurants, beaches, clay pigeon shooting and the Hotel Comercio in Calle Doña Blanca. Through all that I came into contact with the world of wine. I got to know all sorts of wines especially the “medio tapón” (younger Finos sold cheaply in bars). There was no television and the hours were short and in December there were the afternoon drinks, occasions where I learned a lot from comments at the bar or from the more knowledgeable people who worked in bodegas. Also my father had contacts with the wine salesmen who would sit down and discuss wines and prices.

And you paid attention?
I loved it but it wasn’t studied then. It was a case of mouth to mouth or visiting a bodega as a child and taking in the sights and sounds and slowly becoming a wine professional. There were no degrees and I had to do some training in Madrid going on to professional education. You came out as a technician in viticulture and oenology which later got me into a bodega.

Nobody mentored you, you had to be self-taught?
I had no mentor. My father, who knew various bodega representatives, used to take me to visit the bodegas. I was only ten but it was the only way to find out what one could never know.

What must the good oenologist know?
The oenologist must have an in depth knowledge of what is in the bodega. It is not just working with wine but managing a bodega. One has to enter the world of cost competitivity as wines of the same quality at a lower price give the bodega a better margin. The romance of the past has gone, what matters now is management and results.

Manuel and some of his awards (foto:Pascual/diariodejerez)

In Jerez we have always had very good oenologists.
José Ignacio Domecq, “La Nariz” (the “nose”), is a clear example. With him people could count on ways to study abroad and get a good training. Those who studied at his side like senior bodega foremen learned the day to day work and managed everything related to the business side of the wine. They were fine tasters classifying wine from butt to butt. There was the language of the chalk, marking each butt carefully and watching its evolution. It used to be done solely with the nose, a venencia and a glass.

You started from the bottom.
I started working my first vintages with González Byass. You need to do it that way, from the bottom.  Even just hosing the bodega has to be well done. Things were done traditionally then and you even had to know which wind was blowing so you could close the windows against the Levante and open them at night to let in the Poniente or the moisture, which would blow away the heat of the day.

And then you entered a bodega?
When I finished my studies I started in the laboratory at Fernando A deTerry. I worked there for 22 years. I began as an analyst of wine, brandy and vinegar. I started in 1983. Those were the years of merging of bodegas and companies after the collapse and expropriation of Rumasa. Terry went to Harveys where I continued in bodega production.

Are you one of those who think these prizes have less value here than in other countries?
I move around the world a lot and they have different values in different countries. In fact the oenologist goes out on the streets a lot to help the salesmen. That wasn’t done before, but it is now. He does tastings, food matching… Have you ever seen so many chefs on television? Before, we didn’t even know them, but it has worked, now people drink less but know more about wine.

But these things are not easy to achieve.
Absolutely. Five thousand fortified wines might enter the competition and be analysed and tasted by a jury of specialists who award marks. We can bring some 50 blends, usually not well known around here but certainly internationally. Since Lustau exports over 90% these things sell a lot of it. And if you go around doing tastings, explaining how the wine is made, you meet the customer who is going to drink it. This is added value which didn’t exist before.

I have read that you are optimistic for Sherry.
I love Sherry. It should be remembered that it was once the biggest selling wine in the world. It will come back. It has certainly gone through some bad times and the multinationals have done it no favours, but most bodegas are now back in family hands. I am optimistic, I see the bottle half full. I used to be worried about the average age of Sherry drinkers, but I am now seeing young people drinking it in tabancos with interest. A lot has changed and quickly.

But the majority of young people still drink long drinks.
That’s certainly true; I think we are lacking something here which is the culture of Sherry.

That has been a great mistake, to allow the loss of Sherry culture.
There are actually schools which visit bodegas who give them a glass of grape juice after they have seen what a butt is and the different types of Sherry. They are told that this is what once supported the economy of Jerez along with lots of related businesses like label printers, bottle makers and bottle cap makers, an enormous industry related to Sherry, but it has all gone.

We are hearing about new formulas to re-launch the wine. What do you think of 100% Jerez?
I think it is meaningless. The key to Sherry is the solera system and there the alcohol is mixed in over many years until a homogeneous wine of whatever type comes out. It can't be 100% Jerez. Maybe this idea comes from people who have more grapes than they need. And it is good marketing. The fortifying spirit is rectified to 96%/vol and about 18-20 litres of it goes into a butt containing about 500 litres to bring the wine up to 15%/vol, but it gives no noticeable organoleptic character whether the grapes were Airén or Palomino.

Another matter is Bag-in-Box (BIB)…
BIB is the same as wines sold in tetrabrik with lower quality and price, while wines with a bottle and cork are better quality at a higher price, they are not the same. And another thing: like it or not, the Cionsejo has its rules and we have to respect them. If you want to sell BIB then leave the Consejo. And it is not a substitute for the garrafa as the mayor of Sanlúcar says.

So the usual problems look like dragging on forever?
Sherry’s trajectory is still to be resolved. It sells for less than it is worth, it has a great capital value some of which evaporates because it must be in the solera for a minimum of 2 years. Also nobody knows how to sell it nor even lay the foundations to keep building. What wine with crianza bialogica can cost €5 in a supermarket? What do the label and bottle cost?

Or what does the time cost?
Nobody pays for that… but we need to know how to sell it. We have lost time messing about and not investing more so that Sherry is not seen as a wine past its sell-by date, a wine for old people. And why are we not investing more time and money in educating people about Sherry? People in shops don’t know the difference between a Palo Cortado and an Amontillado.

What is your favourite Sherry?
That depends on the circumstances and the moment, how it is served, what temperature and how well it has been looked after.

Excuse me, we’re suffering from the heat. Can you give us a full bodied wine - cold?
That’s not the usual way to serve it. Best to drink an Oloroso or Amontillado at the bodega temperature, 14-15 degrees.

Never cold despite the temperature?
When taken cold it concentrates the aromas but the colder it gets the less the aromas expand.

Something to eat alongside it? A tapa or something perhaps?
Here in Jerez it is neither the custom nor the tradition to serve a tapa with a drink, but if so, it is probably the bar trying to promote the tapas. However the glass should be appropriate-those new, more open ones which don’t concentrate the aromas but open them.

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