A blog and review on all things Sherry. It is about tasting, enjoyment and learning more about the World’s Finest Wine. "Sherry is a thoroughbred" as Javier Hidalgo rightly puts it. Included are the amazing local Brandies and the remarkably good table wines also produced in the province of Cádiz.
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.