The family of León Aldama y Respaldiza 1781-1863 originally came from Álava, south of Bilbao. In 1823 León took over the bodegas of Aguilar y Cia, established in 1740 in Calle de la Plata in Sanlúcar and containing some very old wines. He initially lived in a house in the Plazuela San Francisco, now belonging to the Sisters of the Cross, and later bought the garden and house in Calle de la Plata from his parents in 1857. There was an impressive library here.
He was disappointed at how cheaply wine was sold and initiated a “pact of resistance” with fellow bodegueros Pedro Manjón and Fernando Mergelina by which they would agree a fair price and commit not to sell for less. They also committed to buying all Sanlúcar wine which was below their agreed price. This admirable idea had the inevitable consequences, however.
|Tha San Jose bodega with vineyard|
On his death in 1863 León, a bachelor, left his estate to two of his nephews, Pedro Aldama Gaviña and José Gabriel Aldama Camba (1850-1901), who became the first Conde de Aldama by concession of Pope León XIII aged 38. He had vineyards in the albariza soils of Pago Mahina and bodegas in the Banda de la Playa and Calles San Juan and San Antonio, where he built up great soleras such as Amontillado Dorotea, Moscatel IX Perlas and PX Corona. But he never sold the wine. In fact he ordered the bungholes of the butts to be sealed with plaster so that no-one, even the capataz, could know the value of these precious liquids or add anything inferior. This lasted for fifty years (1888-1927) giving the wines great maturity and immense value as almacenista wines. Even since then the wines have only been topped up to compensate for evaporation losses.
Phylloxera arrived towards the end of the XIX century destroying long established vineyards and putting many bodegas out of business. Those vineyards which were re-planted used Phylloxera-resistant American rootstocks, and the wine produced refreshed old soleras of pre-Phylloxera wine, but Aldama didn’t like it, considering it dirty on the nose. He stopped growing and making wine and only bought in pre-phylloxera butts annually to refresh his soleras. Like his uncle, José Gabriel remained a bachelor and spent his time building up soleras and making money.
On his death he left his estate to his nephew Antonio Aldama Mendivil, Marqués de Ayala, born in 1867, who had trained in theology and for the priesthood, but was advised not to continue. Antonio arrived in Sanlúcar in 1899 and married Dolores Prueño Velarde with whom he had seven children, of whom two died young and the others joined the church. Antonio took over the running of the bodegas, building up working capital to 4 million pesetas and the value of just one bodega , bought from Ana Linares Paz (Viuda de Vila) to one and a half million.
|Interior of the bodega San Jose|
The firm supplied wine on an almacenista basis to JM Rivero, Moreno de Mora, Vergara, MacKenzie, Barbadillo and Pedro Romero, which demonstrates their quality. Just two sales of wine to González Byass raised six hundred thousand, while retail sales brought in seventy thousand duros (five pesetas) a year. Stocks now stood at about ten million litres and there were other soleras: Miura, Amontillado Ayala, Amontillado León, San Gabriel and Emperador. He had very lucrative interests in mining, banking and naval shipbuilding, as well as being much involved in religious affairs.
|The bodega's list|
Antonio had, however been too distracted by religious affairs, having spent a fortune on philanthropy and paid too little attention to the bodegas, and went bust in 1921 with debtors refusing to pay. The family sought refuge in religion, and Antonio died with the Jesuits at the college of San Ignacio de Loyola at Azpeitia, in 1930. The bodegas were sold off and the family house was bought by José Antonio Florido. Francisco Yuste now owns a Palo Cortado and an Amontillado Solera which formerly belonged to Aldama and includes them in a top end range of wines labelled Conde de Aldama, amongst the oldest wines in Sanlucar, being XVIII century soleras. Barbadillo own the Amontillado Hindenburg solera, also bought from Conde de Aldama some 200 years ago, which provides the Amontillado Reliquia.