Thursday, 9 July 2015

Bodegas: Rafael O’Neale

Not a great deal of information is available about O’Neale, which is surprising if not totally unusual since this very old firm only disappeared in 1983. It was almost certainly the first foreign-owned bodega, but information is sketchy. It was never one of the bigger firms, but had a good reputation and survived for some 260 years.

After eleven years of war with Oliver Cromwells’ Protestant armies, there was famine in Ireland and even an outbreak of the bubonic plague. In 1652 a “settlement” was made whereby Irish Catholics were free to leave and serve with foreign armies as long as they were not at war with England but they, like the O’Neale family, would be relieved of their lands. In 1690 the battle of the Boyne led them to leave Ireland altogether in 1691 and seek their fortune where they could freely practise their Catholic faith. Such expatriates were known as the “Wild Geese”. Often there were many members of a family which complicates research.

Henry O’Neale Knoulis or Knowles was born in 1676 at Roscrea (County Tipperary) and went as a mercenary to Spain where in 1711 he married Ana María Fernández Oliveros (born 1676) in La Coruña, where the O’Neales had fled. A year later, their son Patrick was born in El Puerto de Santa María, a port which attracted many with the allure of the business with the Americas. The family prospered in general commerce including wine and had a grand “casa palacio” house in Calle Santo Domingo near the Guadalete riverside. In 1723 Henry was elected as a councillor to El Puerto Council.

Palacio O'Neale, El Puerto de Santa Maria
Timothy O’Neale (born 1672), son of James O’Neale of Ballyneale near Carrick (Co. Donegal) and Anna Knowles, was probably a nephew of Henry, and he had married well into a local family. He began as a trader sending goods to the Americas before establishing a bodega in 1724 in El Puerto de Santa María. In 1776 Patricio O’Neale Fernández de Oliveros, son of Henry and Ana María was ennobled by King Carlos III.

Rafael O’Neale Giles, descendant of Timothy was already established in El Puerto de Santa María in 1869. At some point the firm moved to Jerez, and this bodega was situated at the ancient Moorish city wall where there was a watchtower which contained an aviary, and which is now a national monument. O’Neale owned the El Cuadrado vineyard in the Pago Miraflores. The bodega was first mentioned in the export lists of Jerez in 1905 in the Calle Circo, 5. In 1909 it moved to Calle Lechuga, 10, and in 1923 to the Calle Cid, 4 until the end in 1983, still in family hands.

Enrique O’Neale Orbaneja married Casilda de la Quintana, a member of the González (Byass) family, in July 1949, and when he died, she ran the bodega under the title Viuda de Rafael O’Neale for a while before returning to live with her sisters at El Altillo, the house built by Manuel María González Ángel, founder of González Byass.  O’Neale bottled a Vino de Pasto Sherry named “Wild Geese” in respect of the expatriate Irish community.

In 1992 a quantity of old (1923) soleras of vinegar were found in the old O’Neale family bodega Mendoza, a classic old fashioned bodega in Jerez. It contains the oldest 1,100 butts of Reserva vinegar and was purchased by Vinagres de Yema SA, now sold as one of the very best Jerez vinegars in 50 cl bottles, and only a thousand a year: Vinagres de Yema Gran Reserva. Another firm, Páez Morilla (vinegar specialists and owners of Dios Baco) also bought vinegar soleras from O’Neale.

Some brands were: Finísimo Viña El Cuadrado; Fino Palma; Fino Arruza; Añada 1840, Oloroso Solera Selecta 1821, Spanish Arch, also vinegar.

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