Saturday, 11 June 2016

Bodegas: Fernández-Gao

This firm dates back to 1750 according to its labels, making it one of the earliest of the bigger firms. It was founded by Manuel Fernández who came from the north of Spain but was living in Jerez. He was succeeded by his son Juan Alonso Fernández, also born in the north but married to the Jerezana Ana María López. They were wine producers selling to the bodegas.

Their son was José María Fernández y López (1798-1864) who went on to marry the Sevillana Josefa María González de Molina. Between 1818 and 1828 the firm had extensive vineyards in good pagos and began to sell most of the wine they produced to Manuel María González, founder of González Byass.

One of their three children, José María Fernández González (1843-1914) went for further education to England, thus guaranteeing the continuity of the firm. He married Francisca de Asís Gao Fernández de los Rios and they had seven children. As well as being a lawyer and leading bodeguero/businessman, he was noted in politics as a member of the liberal party, becoming mayor of Jerez in 1909 and president of the Tempúl Water Company. He bought the Viña san Agustín vineyard.

In 1896 he formed an association with Manuel Cantillo y García, who had a bodega in Calle Arcos (later bought by Manuel de Misa) creating the wine company Fernández y Cantillo which would last for a few decades. Some years before, he had already bought part of the wine business and equipment of the British Consul, CH Furlong.

As a result of family matters, Fernando Fernández Gao y González, born in 1878 the son of José María and Francisca de Asís Gao, took over the business in 1919. After Cantillo’s death in 1914 the trading name was changed from Fernández y Cantillo to Fernández-Gao Hermanos and would remain the same till 1956. They were operating largely as producers/almacenistas. Fernando received special dispensation to unite his two surnames into one: Fernández-Gao. He was married to Ana María González y Travieso.

Among the firm’s best-known wines were Fino La Mina and two Amontillados Finos: Albarizuela and El 68 (year the solera was established), Oloroso El 50, Royal Sherry and Manzanilla La Africana. Among the brandies were Legendario, Timonel and Del Novecientos Cuatro, as well as Fegach Gin. Many of these attractive labels were designed by the Jerez graphic artist José Luis Torres. Such was the firm’s reputation that in 1919 the newspaper ABC dedicated a full reportage to it. On Fernando’s death in 1949, ownership of the bodega was split among his and his siblings’ (Matilde, Fernando and Ramiro José Fernández Gao) children.

 In 1953 Fernando’s children set up a company Hijos de Fernando Fernández-Gao y González at a bodega in Calle Lechugas, but it only lasted ten years before they sold out to Pedro Domecq. Matilde’s children set up a company Bilbao Fernánedez-Gao, but that only lasted five years. Ramiro José’s children sold out to McKenzie next door in 1967. Ramiro, who was chosen as Capataz de Honor at the Fiestas de la Vendimia in 1960, and his stepbrother Diego Ferguson would become directors of Harveys who bought out McKenzie in 1970.

But that was only a temporary ending to the story. Antonio Sánchez Gago, a Jerez businessman has recently bought the company name and brand names of Fernández-Gao and re-launched the firm using some old family soleras. He bought a couple of old bodegas which he has restored, in Calle Pajarete and in Calle Arcos - where the original firm started out.

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