This interview by Á Espejo appeared in today’s Diario de Jerez
Sanlúcar businessman Francisco Yuste made his fortune over long years in the distribution business as provincial agent for Pepsi Cola and Estrella Galicia beer as well as Barbadillo and Delgado Zuleta. He started out in the bodega business as an almacenista in the early 1990s inspired by a fascination for the world of wine. After the recent purchase of Bodegas Argüeso he has now accumulated stocks of some 8,000 butts, much of which is destined to be bulk Manzanilla, for which he is a defender of the BIB as against the “obsolete” reusable glass garrafa. After the court suspended the use of BIB, Yuste says he is not especially bothered by it, though he does say that it will never be possible to get rid of bulk wine for the tabancos - which he believes is the hidden agenda of the Consejo - as it runs against a deeply rooted tradition of the people.
He is convinced that Sherry has a bright future; in fact he thinks it has the brightest future of all wines as it is still a great unknown, but once it is properly discovered there won’t be enough mosto to supply the demand. This bodeguero from Sanlúcar keeps in touch with bodegas elsewhere, among them a bodega with the highest volume sales in Europe which is interested in investing in the Sherry zone in some way, and Yuste says the signing of contracts is just a matter of time.
It was inevitable I should ask you this: what is the solution to the BIB affair?
(He roars with laughter). Honestly I don’t like talking about it. I might appear to be a supporter of it, but I am not really bothered. I put the glass bottle first, and in fact I am innovating with it. The BIB is merely a medium of transport to get the wine from the bodega to the tabanco. It has to get there somehow, and if we can’t use BIB we’ll have to transport it like gas: in pipes!
What is behind the BIB controversy?
What is behind it is that they want to do away with bulk wine, something which will never happen as it is rooted in the people. It is a tradition and they will never ever be able to get rid of it. Anyway, it would be stupid as what needs to be done is to promote it in the tabancos where the young people go, and it is them whom we need to attract to our wines. That’s the way forward.
There is certainly a resurgence of interest in Sherry but no resurgence in its price.
This is the bodegas’ problem. We don’t know how to sell the wines at the price they merit. Sherry and Manzanilla have huge amounts of costly space dedicated to butts and all the other pertinences which other wines don’t have. But while these young wines sell at eleven or twelve euros, we are selling at the ridiculous price of below two euros, and in some cases below one. This is our problem; if we don’t sell at above six euros we will be ruined. We need to add value to the wine, not reduce the period of crianza to sell it younger, or bottle anything that is not Manzanilla. We must give status to our wine aiming for quality and a realistic price.
What would you say about bottling something that is not Manzanilla?
I don’t know what it is that some people are selling, but the sums are simple. If a bottle of Manzanilla is selling for below one euro, and one takes into account the cost of the bottle, the seal, the label, and then the tax and the distributor’s share, there can’t be any room for profit. So I don’t know what could be in the bottle, but even if it were water, it would not be profitable. Yuste has stopped selling to ferias and certain other customers because the price they wanted was too low. We want to give caché to our wines, and it can’t be done at those prices.
The BIB doesn’t seem to have helped prices.
The contents of the BIB are the genuine article, the same as has always been sold to the tabancos in bulk. We, and I am speaking for Yuste, are selling this wine for over three euros per litre while a bottle, in some cases, is selling for less than one euro. It would be interesting to do a comparative blind tasting. At the end of the day it is the customer who rules, and the BIB is in growing demand.
Why has the BIB affair been shut down?
Because of the commercial interests of some bodegas who want more of a niche market, but that won’t achieve anything. We have to aim for quality, sell more, know how to sell and not be distracted by these battles. It is not normal to waste so much time on such matters when what we should be doing is improving quality, which is what the Consejo should be looking at, so that we can sell a better product at a better price.
Now it is the BIB affair and before it was the Fino and Manzanilla affair. Are Jerez and Sanlúcar doomed to confrontation?
It is not a battle between Jerez and Sanlúcar but a battle between the big bodegas. The Fino and Manzanilla affair was a battle between Barbadillo and Estévez, and the BIB affair was a battle between the bodegas of Sanlúcar and the same big bodega in Jerez which is involved in all the battles because it wants to corner the market in everything.
But the demands of Fedejerez represent the majority of the bodegas, not just one.
There are many big bodegas in Jerez which don’t care much about the BIB affair and there were Manzanilla producers who didn’t care much about the Fino and Manzanilla affair. But we had to react because we understood that they were taking away a patrimony which was ours as well: Fino. It can be made anywhere in the area, while Manzanilla can only be made in Sanlúcar, yet some bodegas only make Fino. It is a question of biological or oxidative ageing. If the wine loses its flor at any time, then it is Fino, and if it doesn’t then it is Manzanilla. Everybody knows that, and it’s the same with the BIB affair; bulk wine is a long established tradition and the BIB is a more hygenic means of transport than the garrafa.
You entered the wine trade out of romance, but after your latest acquisitions (Argüeso and Pedro Romero) it could no longer be considered as just a hobby.
We are now the third or fourth largest bodega in Sanlúcar, although it is true that I entered the trade because I had always loved the world of Manzanilla. I started by selling it and my great dream was to live in a bodega, something I achieved when I bought the old bodega where the Pérez Marín family (former proprietors of La Guita) lived, a house with its own bodega. When other bodegas came up for sale I was unable to resist buying them because of my love for the world of Manzanilla.
Behind the buying fever there was a sentimental undertone.
Honestly it is a terrible shame that for a long time we have been losing our patrimony of bodegas in Sanlúcar, something which belongs to us all. I have bought a lot of wine and brand names from bodegas which were closing down or not doing well, such as Los 48, Sainz de Baranda, Carbajo, Valdespino in Sanlúcar, Pedro Romero….
Will Yuste continue growing?
For now, Yuste needs to consolidate what it has already, but should anything come up, some investment or other, I would look at it seriously, and I would like to buy something one day in Jerez. I would love to have a bodega there because I love the place. When I go there I feel transported to another time; that is the magic of Jerez.
Have you checked out any bodegas for sale in Jerez?
We have looked at a lot in Jerez but so far no suitable investment has cropped up.
Are you thinking of something substantial?
I would like something with a name, a reputation, a history, because when you sell Sherry you are selling history.
If I granted you a wish, what would it be?
The first thing would be to change the Consejo (more laughter). Representation there is not all it could be because the big bodegas dominate and look out for their own interests. But I don’t want to speak too loudly about that because every time I do I get an inspection!
Since it is Christmas I’ll grant you two more wishes.
Another wish would be that the grapes fetched the price they deserve. When I bought the vineyard they fetched 100 pesetas (0.60 euros) /kilo and now they only fetch 60 (0.36 euros) at a push. Obviously without grapes the will be no mosto and without that there will be no wine. My third wish would be that public institutions would help with the upkeep of the bodega heritage. We can go so far, but we need help.
One last wish, but not connected with wine.
I would improve the situation in Sanlúcar. It desperately needs industrial infrastructure as it has the most unemployment and poverty in Spain. This is often stated, but no investment ever materialises. The government should be helping to attract industry to the places which most need it, and Sanlúcar certainly needs it.