Monday, 14 March 2016

The Small Bodegas Make Sherry Great

This interesting article by Á Espejo appeared in the Diario de Jerez yesterday:

He innovated with the clear glass bottle and the labelling of his wines. He refused to make the most popular styles: Medium and Pale Cream, and chose to stick to the classics – Fino, Amontillado, Palo Cortado, Oloroso and PX, the wines which had earned Sherry its worldwide fame. Yet this Norwegian is no dreamer, he has his feet firmly on the ground, refusing to sell his wine too cheaply – his cheapest is 13 euros – if only others would do the same.

He is so Jerezano that one might think Jan Pettersen was born in Norway by accident: Sherry runs through his veins and he promotes it like the best Jerezano. At his bodega in the Calle Jardinillo he gives daily lessons on how to manage a wine and brandy bodega without ruining oneself in the process . He is quite clear about it “you can’t make a quality wine for 6 euros”.

Jan at his bodega (foto:diariodejerez)

So how did he end up in Jerez? Pettersen was “recruited” back in 1983 by Osborne for their international division while he was studying for a degree in business management in Barcelona. Seven years with Osborne was enough to steep him in the culture of Jerez and decide to join it. The opportunity arose to buy the bodega, wines and brands of Fernando Andrada to which he later added the adjacent bodegas of José Bustamante. By 2002 the bodegas, which had been in a ruinous state, had been restored.

The Andrade bodega specialised in brandy, a lighter, drier style than the norm and highly regarded. As with the wines, Petterson’s watchword from the start was maximum quality in the brandy, marketed as Fernando de Castilla and at much higher prices than other brands of this much devalued drink. With the wine he refused to get involved in the scramble for high volume and low prices of the “wines for grannies” which were the best sellers but in decline. He did the same with the brandy, sticking only to the high quality Solera Reserva and Solera Gran Reserva styles and eschewing the basic Solera which was causing so many headaches for the Consejo Regulador as some bodegas had decided to remove their Solera brandies from the DO and sell them cheaply as “spirit drinks” containing very little alcohol derived from wine.

Pettersen takes a different route. Quality costs money and that in turn brings profitability. This rule is strictly applied at Fernando de Castilla and has turned the company around. In the Andrada days it had a fine but local reputation, but now its products are available in some 50 markets worldwide. “There is no possible profit in the prices many bodegas are selling their wines for. Sherry must be sold at its proper price which is much higher than it is now,” he says. He shares the new movement which focuses on the value of the vineyard. “Before, the price of grapes varied according to quality, but that has been lost. Many bodegas are looking in the other direction now, above all the small ones, who are leading the way with more sensible prices, which are necessary because of their small production.”

His philosophy has brought him much recognition. He is very proud to have won the Best Spirit of the Year for his Solera Reserva brandy from the Verema forum. He confesses to being a Sherry romantic and notes that rather than lead the way many big bodegas have simply diversified into other products. Now the small bodegas are leading the way, there are more brands on the market and there is more cooperation between the bodegas to take advantage of the renewed interest in Sherry.

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