Translated from an article by Á Espejo in today’s Diario de Jerez
AE – First of all, congratulations!
AF – Thank you!
AE – How did you receive the news?
AF – Well, in these International Wine Challenge awards which are considered the Oscars of the wine world, and work in much the same way as those in Hollywood, they make a shortlist of three which consisted this time of Manuel Lozano of Lustau, who died recently and won the award seven times consecutively, a Portuguese winemaker and myself. The names of the winners of the main awards are revealed at the Gala dinner at London’s Hilton Hotel, and it was there I heard my name announced as Best Fortified Winemaker in the World. It is a spectacular event, and was a super-emotional moment.
AE – A lot of emotion and I imagine a lot of nerves also?
AF – Tremendous nerves. I had already been nominated three times for Best Winemaker, but Manolo won, and whoever says they are not nervous at these moments is lying. You get very nervous and the heart beats faster. It has been a very special year for me.
AE - Was Manuel Lozano remembered?
AF – Definitely. I had – or rather still have - a great friendship with Manolo as I believe it continues from Heaven - where they now have a top oenologist. I would have loved it if he could have been present at the Gala, yet I felt his presence and even cried a few tears. I think the organisers did a fantastic thing, naming the award for Best Fortified Wine in the World after Manolo, and if my bodega wins this award, for the Cuatro Palmas for example, it couldn’t be more emotional. It was a full evening and definitely one to remember; all that was missing was Manolo.
AE – To whom do they actually award the prize?
AF – It was awarded to me, but it also belongs to the entire team at González Byass. We always say we are a family of wines and it’s true, we are a family of wines, so the prize is for all of the family, for those who are there now and those who went before. It is a prize for my father, for the capataces and members of the different generations of the González family who have managed to preserve a style and lineage in their wines – and it is also a prize for Jerez itself.
AE – As they say in Jerez you’ve been immersed in it since childhood.
AF – I was lucky enough to be born right above the foundational solera of Tio Pepe, the Tio Pepe Rebollo solera, and as I always say, it is not blood running through my veins, but Tio Pepe. These great awards for Manolo, for me, are very important for Jerez because they recognise the value of one of the world’s finest wines which is reclaiming its rightful place.
AE – Why did people lose interest in Sherry for so long?
AF – There were many factors in play. One is fashion, but also Jerez and certain bodegueros bear much of the blame. Making a great wine cheap means reducing its quality; and its recuperation means going back to its origins. I often say that there will be no future if we don’t take strength from the past; our predecessors did things well basing things on quality, the vineyard, the wine’s provenance. Now there is a move to return to the origins and doing so is allowing Sherry to recuperate its place in the world, something extremely important.
AE – The prizes are won, when will Sherry get the price it deserves?
AF - Little by little. What we call the Sherry Revolution is not the work of a day, a week or even a year. We cannot go back to the days of large volumes, days we must forget. We need to go for wines of quality and in reduced quantity, and the results will be apparent with the passing of time. It is unarguable that right now the consumer has a great opportunity with Sherry and is able to drink great wines at super competitive prices, and we ourselves need to believe it.
AE – This Sherry Revolution which everyone is talking about has an interesting mix of acclaimed winemakers and other young talents who are really pushing the boundaries.
AF – That’s the future. For me, one of the most interesting tastings at Vinoble was that of Pedro Ballesteros, Spain’s Master of Wine, about the “new avenues for Sherry” in which he sought to unite the present and future of Sherry. That there are highly educated oenologists who are well organised, have a vision for Sherry and are opening new avenues is very important, as is the way the Consejo Regulador positioned itself at this tasting in a very positive manner toward these new avenues. We winemakers in Jerez have always been very discreet people. In Jerez we don’t make “winemaker wines” like other regions; instead we have a much more important responsibility which is to be given wines of a particular style – and each bodega has a style – preserve these wines and above all, hand them over to the next generation in at least the same condition as we received them.
AE – Some of these new avenues include grape varieties which were cast aside for having lower production levels than Palomino Fino. Do you think the Consejo should authorise them once again?
AF – Here we chose the varieties which were most suitable and we should remember that a bodega is a business which has to operate profitably. But the diversity these varieties offer could be profitable with higher prices. At the moment we use three varieties: Palomino, Pedro Ximénez and Moscatel, but why not open the door to other varieties? But before that there is an easier job which is to recuperate the relationship with the vineyards, the pagos of Jerez, something which is already happening. Jerez forgot about the vineyards, but now they are being given much greater importance. I believe this is fundamental. People think that in the world of wine anything old is good, but I say it is not like that; I mean if an old wine is good it must have been a good wine when it was young, back when there was more care in the vineyards, respectful winemaking, and these virtues were able to be preserved. Now we can’t forget the bodegas either: Sherry is made great in the vineyards, and made inimitable in the bodega. These are the two great strengths of Sherry which must be preserved.
AE – González Byass is obviously investing in vineyards.
AF – The entire solera Tio Pepe Rebollo, which supplies Tio Pepe en rama, is from the pago Macharnudo, the Constancia solera is from Macharnudo and Carrascal, the two Jerez Superior pagos where we have our vineyards. And what’s more the Tio Pepe soleras consist of 20,000 butts comprising 21 soleras among which are the emblematic solera Macharnudo, solera Carrascal and solera Balbína, though we no longer own vineyard in the latter.
AE – It is noticeable that the oenologists are turning into the great Sherry communicators.
AF – It is one step further. The wine consumer wants direct contact with the winemaker and I believe that the communication course which Cádiz University is already doing in the oenology degree is very important in communicating what we do. We are in an area which has everything: tradition, history, quality, and we need to communicate this. I have conducted many tastings in the USA and Canada, and it gives me great pride to say that my bodega has a longer history than their city. The winemaker needs to get up from the table and get the wine across with passion and belief in what he is communicating.
AE – Do you have new projects in mind that you can tell us about now?
AF – We have a wonderful project which few bodegas in Jerez could do. It is a big project, and like so many others, stems from the magnificent historic archive of González Byass. It consists of three grape varieties vinified sweet: Palomino – of which there are very few – Moscatel and Pedro Ximénez. We are one of the few bodegas in Jerez which has Pedro Ximénez and we hope to be self-sufficient in the future, without the need to buy in wine from Montilla. I hope these wines will be available to enjoy next year, but we are also working on new projects with old and young vintage wines, but they are still secret.
AE – Will the bodega continue using historic labels?
AF – We have been using these for the last seven years for Tio pepe en rama and for five years for the Palmas. The archive also provided a label for the new vermouth, and the majority of them are beautiful.
AE – What is the González Byass secret for staying at the fore-front for almost 200 years?
AF – The secret is that the family has invested a lot of love and dedication into the bodega. Capital which could have been invested elsewhere has been invested in Jerez and in quality. We never entered the buyer’s own brand market and suffered difficult times when everyone else opted to cut prices, but in the end we reaped the fruit. The González family is now into its seventh generation, and that brings complications. Having over 100 shareholders in a business in which not everyone can participate is very difficult but so far our president Mauricio González Gordon and our vice-president Pedro Rebuelta are managing to unite the family in the common project which is González Byass.
AE – A united family which maintains its links to Jerez.
AF – Absolutely. Jerez can’t complain about lack of support from González Byass and vice-versa.
AE - González Byass is also taking great advantage of wine tourism, so in vogue right now.
AF – We are pioneers in many things and we pioneered wine tourism when nobody else thought of it, and it is of great value to us now. We are the most-visited bodega in Europe and one of the most-visited in the world. Over 200,000 people visit every year and that’s very important as each one takes away a little of our history and culture and we’re putting Jerez on the map. It is one of the most visited monuments in Europe – well, I consider it a monument – and that is a source of economic wealth which is sowing the seeds for the future.
AE – It was inevitable that I would ask you about Bag in Box since the Junta has authorised its use.
AF – I don’t believe that is good for Sherry, and not because it has any oenological problem. It is a question of image. None of the world’s fine wines are packed in BIB. It is not good and González Byass will not be using it.
AE – What do you think about the resurrection of the old Domecq bodegas?
AF – It is very good for Jerez. The recuperation of Fundador, previously Domecq, is fundamental because it is one of the great bastions of Jerez. I Domecq disappeared from the wine map of Jerez it would be like Barcelona or Madrid disappearing from football. That someone goes for Jerez, and not just for the brandy but also for the Sherry is a hopeful sign for Jerez.