Monday, 19 December 2016

Almacenistas

The word comes from Arabic into the Spanish “almacén”: a store or warehouse. An Almacenista, obviously, is one who runs it; a warehouse keeper. The words can be applied to the storage of anything, but in Jerez, why would you store anything other than Sherry?!

In the past, when Sherry was a much bigger business than now, there were many more producers, and only the big firms had international – or even national market penetration. The only market for small producers was other, bigger bodegas. It suited both parties well enough, however, as the big bodegas could concentrate on their markets and the small bodegas could avoid having to learn about marketing in other languages, and concentrate on making wine, with a virtually guaranteed market for it.

At one time there were over 130 Almacenistas, but as time went by, and they could see the value of marketing their own wines, some converted to shipping bodegas. Some of the big firms, meanwhile had been building stocks and no longer needed the Almacenistas. As Sherry sales slumped, some simply sold up.

Nowadays the Almacenistas are usually small family firms, who are connected directly or indirectly to the wine trade. They may be small vineyard holders who make their own wine, or they may be business people or just investors who, for the sheer love of Sherry buy wines in and operate small, often very high quality soleras of their own. The produce of these soleras has traditionally been sold to the shipping bodegas who used it to improve their soleras or for blending.

Few Sherry lovers ever got to taste these magnificent wines until Lustau’s MD, Rafael Balao, decided in 1981 to bottle and market them just as they were: the product of a single very small solera. It is worth noting that Lustau themselves began as Almacenistas. For the first time, the Almacenistas’ names were on labels, along with the very small number of butts in the solera. Lustau marketed wines from no fewer than 21 Almacenistas back in the 1980s, but currently from just 6 due to a change in the regulations mentioned later. These wines are necessarily expensive, but of such fine quality that they sell very well, being virtually the only examples of Almacenista wines commercially available.

Under the Reglamento – or rules – of the Consejo Regulador, there are three categories of Sherry producer:

Bodegas de Crianza y Expedición:
These are the shippers, bodegas who sometimes make and always age and market wine. Currently there are 42 of them, including all the big names and some cooperatives. They must be situated within the Zona de Crianza - that is in one of the three towns which form the Sherry Triangle where wines must be aged: Jerez, Sanlúcar and El Puerto de Santa María.

Bodegas de Crianza y Almacenado:
Bodegas who make and mature wine, including cooperatives and those Almacenistas with stock of less than 500 hectolitres and do not commercialise wine. They must be located in the Zona de Crianza and at the moment they number 9.

Bodegas de Producción:
These are bodegas and cooperatives located inside the production zone but outside the Zona de Crianza. They can sell bottled wine on the open market quoting its place of origin but without the Denominación de Origen Sherry. Currently there are eight of them.

Until 1996, bodegas with stock of less than 12,500 hectolitres were not granted a shipping licence but the Consejo changed the rules, reducing the minimum to 500 hectolitres (or 100 butts), allowing many small producers to bottle, commercialise and export their own wines, thus remaining “Almacenistas” and becoming Bodegas de Crianza y Expedición as well.  Most have no bottling or stabilisation equipment, so their wines are contract bottled.

Quite a few Almacenistas converted to shipping bodegas (albeit small ones) after 1996. One famous Almacenista, Pilar Aranda, the first bodega to join the Consejo in 1933, was bought out by Álvaro Domecq in 1998, and is now known as Bodegas Álvaro Domecq. The bodega no longer sells Almacenista wine, just very good Sherry. The bodega known as El Maestro Sierra, owned by Pilar Pla Pechovierto and her daughter María del Carmen Borrego Pla also once supplied Lustau with fine Oloroso (Viuda de Antonio Borrego), but now market their wines themselves. Another is Gaspar Florido founded in 1880 in Sanlúcar, and bought by Pedro Romero in 2007.

Almacenistas currently used by Lustau:

Manuel Cuevas Jurado (Sanlúcar) In 1950 Manuel Cuevas Jurado, who ran a wholesale grocery business and owned vineyards in Miraflores near Sanlucar bought a very small  bodega established in 1889 as Nuestra Senora del Pilar. Today his son Manuel Cuevas Galvez runs the business which consists of various soleras totalling over 2,000 butts, mostly Manzanilla of various ages. They supply Lustau with Manzanilla Pasada de Sanlúcar, over 7 years old (80 butts), and a rare and fantastic Manzanilla Amontillada de Sanlúcar (21 butts) of more than double that age.

Juan Antonio Garcia Jarana (Jerez) The owner of a very successful motorcycle dealership in Jerez, he started by buying a small bodega in 1979, where he makes very fine wines, many of which are used as gifts to friends and business associates. Lustau buy two of his wines: Amontillado de Jerez (51 butts), and Oloroso Pata de Gallina (38 butts). The bodega contains about 700 butts of Fino, Amontillado, Oloroso Viejo and very old PX.

José Luis González Obregón (El Puerto) This bodega was founded in 1935, markets its own wine brands and, since the 1950s has owned a bar in the actual bodega, and another nearby. Their food is famous. They currently supply Lustau with Fino del Puerto (143 butts), Amontillado del Puerto (10 butts) and Oloroso del Puerto (110 butts). {See separate post}

José de la Cuesta (El Puerto) La Cuesta was established in 1849. They took over the firm of John William Burdon, who died without issue, and in 1932 were bought by Bodegas Luis Caballero, who also, incidentally own Lustau. La Cuesta used to market their own brands, such as the Troubadour range, but these disappeared years ago. It would appear that their soleras are still being used as a sort of Almacenista supply to Lustau. Anyway, Lustau market a Fino del Puerto from a solera of 183 butts. {See separate post}

Miguel Montádez Florido (Jerez) Miguel is in fact, a pharmacist, but owns a small bodega behind his pharmacy from which he supplies Lustau with two wines: Amontillado de Jerez (30 butts) and an Amontillado Fino de Jerez (47 butts) which is exquisite.

Vides (Jerez) Established in 1958 by Tomás Domecq Rivero in the Barrio Santiago, this firm is now run by grandson Fernando León Manjón. They own the Esparto vineyard in Carrascal and make their own wine. They supply Lustau with a lovely Palo Cortado averaging 20 years old.

Rosario Benitez Giron (Jerez) Once supplied a 30 year old Amontillado (1/2)

Some other Almacenistas:

Ángel Zamorano (Jerez) Ángel, a businessman with interests in petrol stations, business management and horses, bought a small bodega in 1974, which now extends to some 700 butts. He has sold wine to Domecq and Lustau, and used the bodega to entertain family and business associates. He worries, however, that his children will not continue the bodega.

Ángel del Río (Sanlúcar) Ángel was studying chemical engineering abroad when his father died. He had been a winemaker selling mosto to bodegas. In around 1990, Ángel decided to become an Almacenista and bought a bodega right at the shore, next to the shipyards. It contains 1,139 butts, mostly of chestnut as he found oak hard to get and expensive. His wines are Manzanilla, Amontillado and Oloroso. He is finding the current position very difficult and is thinking of opening a restaurant-bodega serving wine direct from the butt, or just selling up.

César Florido (Chipiona) Part Almacenista and part shipper, this old bodega (1890), is one of the three remaining of 83 in the heydays. It specialises in Moscatel, as is the local way. They sell it to Romate and Caballero among others, and market a range of styles under their own label. The Moscatel is lovely! {See separate post}

Gaspar Florido (Sanlúcar) Established in 1942, the bodega sold its wine from very old soleras to the trade. In 1997, the 4th generation, Eduardo Cotro Florido decided to bottle the wines, as he realised their enormous value. This he did with enormous confidence in his very old Amontillados and Olorosos. Being an Almacenista had condemned the bodega to obscurity, and he knew he’d have to use clever tactics. So he introduced a beautiful, very old Amontillado called 25GF which sold in limited quantities at an exorbitant price. It worked: the whole world took notice. The firm was bought out by Pedro Romero in 2007. {See separate post}

Cayetano del Pino (Jerez) This small firm was established in 1866 by Don Cayetano del Pino y Vázquez in the Plaza Cocheras, 3, where they were visited by King Alfonso XIII in 1904. They are now to be found at Plaza Silos, 3. While they are registered with the Consejo as bodegas de Crianza y Expedición, they are also still almacenistas. They currently offer a 15 year old Palo Cortado, a Palo Cortado Viejísimo at about 30 years old from a 5 butt solera, and the Fino Perdido 8 years old, all bottled by Sánchez Romate, but they make other wines. {See separate post}

Bodegas Arfe (Jerez) The original bodega dates from 1767 and contains some 200 butts and occasional small releases for a members-only Club Arfe. They have now released a superb Palo Cortado de la Cruz de 1767 for general sale, but in very small quantities.

Viña Callejuela (Sanlúcar) Famous for the first vintage Manzanilla {See separate post} and suppliers of mostos to Juan Pinero among others

Destiladores y Bodegueros (Jerez) Established in 1987 and the only almacenista with a cooperage, close to Fernando de Castilla.

José Alberto San Román (Jerez) Situated in the Viña Halcón in Balbaina. Some good wine.

José y Miguel Martín (Jerez) Have a lot of Oloroso and some is used for seasoning Whisky casks.

Mercedes Márquez Gómez e Hijos (Jerez) Small family bodega.

Bodega Santa Petronila (Jerez) Located in an old casa de viña in the Macharnudo surrounded by vines, this is probably the smallest bodega in Jerez. {see separate post}


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