Sunday, 30 April 2017

Making the Sherry of a Bygone Age

La Barajuela is not a fashionable Fino, at least not in the fashion of the modern Finos we know today. It is a primitive Fino in the best sense of the word, an old fashioned wine, a tribute to the albariza soils of the Jerez Superior vineyards where it all began, to the purity of the first Jerez Finos of the XIX century and its static ageing as a vintage wine capable of expressing the essence of the soils and climate which are perfect for the cultivation of the vine.

Obsession with the land, the origins and particularly for the XIX century, are what drive Willy Pérez, who is responsible for starting what promises to be a whole new breed of Sherries like those of the past, whose glory days were before the advent of the solera system where it was the soil and the grape which marked out their distinguishing character in the search for excellence, the quintessence which made each butt of Sherry unique and incomparable.

Who said the Palomino grape is a bland grape? Willy Pérez is a member of that generation of young and not so young winemakers which is attracting so much attention through renovation of the past that it is stirring up the wine scene of the Marco de Jerez. With total respect for the long established traditions of the area, Pérez and other members of his generation like Ramiro Ibáñez, Primitivo Collantes or Alejandro Narváez and Rocío Áspera (Forlong) are making a show of their self- assuredness and fresh approach, attachment to the vineyard and winemaking skills.

Willy Perez (foto:Pascual diario de jerez)

On his own or together with the Sanluqueño winemaker Ramiro Ibáñez, Pérez has dedicated himself to bringing out the best of the principal historic Jerez pagos of Carrascal, Macharnudo, Balbaína and Añina with various single vineyard Finos of great concentration and little biological ageing. More character from the soil and less from the flor is the style of the next Fino to be bottled from Viña la Esperanza, the closest to Sanlúcar in the pago Balbaína, while still ageing are wines from Viña el Caribe in the pago Añina and the pago Macharnudo.

But Barajuela is much more than a Fino, in this case from the pago Carrascal. Under the same name he has another project developing wines and brandies in the viña El Corregidor, an old vineyard in the pago Carrascal which once belonged to Sandeman. It could be said that his motto is innovation through regression while his objective is to demonstrate that highly expressive wines can be made from Palomino.

Named after the stratified albariza soil’s similarity of appearance to a pack of cards, Barajuela is a very ambitious project where, in parallel with the wine production, they are busy renovating the El Corregidor casa de viña to convert it into a château-style bodega right next to the vineyard to emphasise the importance of the vineyard itself.

After last spring’s launch of the first (2013) vintage Fino, which will be followed by consecutive vintages, they will soon launch an Oloroso every bit as distinct as the Fino, with 3½ years of ageing. Both the Fino and the Oloroso are fermented in butt and are aged statically. The grapes were selected bunch by bunch both for quality and suitability for the style of wine after an unhurried harvest lasting two months with up to five passes.

The first pass is for grapes for the brandy, the second for white table wine, the third for Fino, the fourth for Oloroso and the fifth for a Raya like those of the old days. This is how grapes were classified until the end of the XIX century. The final job is to give the grapes a little sun drying to raise the alcohol content naturally without recourse to fortification, again, as it used to be done.

Willy with his father Luis Perez at the family bodega
The Palomino Fino, although it is a less productive clone than that currently used throughout the area, accounts for half the 60 hectares planted at El Corregidor. The Pérez family, already known and respected for their Vino de la Tierra de Cádiz red table wines, bought the vineyard in 2013 to develop their Sherry project. They are now setting out to demonstrate the possibilities of a clone which gave way to more productive ones at a time when Sherry was sold in huge volumes until the crisis of 1870 when it was discovered that cheap wines from outside the region were being passed off as old Sherries.

The warm reception by both the national and international markets of the vintage Fino Barajuela has given real recognition to the work of Willy Pérez - who confesses that his passion for Sherry awoke rather late – thanks to reading books by the pioneers of Sherry’s golden age like Pedro Domecq Nuñez de Villavicencio, first Marqués de Domecq, or travellers like James Busby, father of viticulture in Australia and New Zealand in the XIX century who was impresses by the wines and the wealth of Jerez in those days.

Having worked in Australia with Syrah vines in a climate similar to that of Jerez, Willy returned and initially concentrated his efforts on his father’s red wine business. But he had been infected by the enthusiasm of his predecessors in Jerez and began research to recall those fabulous wines they had spoken of in their writings, and in which the land and the vineyard were of prime importance. “As young oenologists at Cádiz University we saw Sherry as somewhat stagnant, but came to see the grandeur of the area and I was struck by the sheer quality people achieved in the XIX century”.

The purchase in 2013 of El Corregidor by his brother in law José Manuel Bajo and his sister Marta offered the ideal test bed for developing the Sherry project. The old Sandeman vineyard, which had been prepared for uprooting after two years without production, met all their main requirements: old vines of between 40-45 years with low yields (4,500 kilos per hectare as against the 15,000 of the most productive vineyards) only slightly above the yields of the XIX century, and suitable for obtaining alcohol levels of 15degrees or more.

Half the vineyard was grafted to Palomino Fino and the other half to Tintilla de Rota and Pedro Ximénez, although the family oenologist would like to plant some other pre-Phylloxera varieties such as Perruno, Cañocazo, Mantúo etc. even though they are not authorised under the DO. Old, low yielding vines which offer higher alcohol levels as the Pérez family wants also offer higher concentrations of aromas, sapidity, salinity, fruitiness… “We complain that the Palomino is dull, but with such high yields as 15,000 k/ha any grape would lose its aromatic qualities”, says the winemaker, detailing that in the laborious harvest the best bunches are selected up to a weight of 690 kilos for each type of wine. It is entirely possible that from Barajuela other types of wine will evolve such as Rayas and Anontillados, and they are not ruling out experimentation with wood ageing, soleras and bottle ageing.

The adherence to the vineyard influences the whole process of recreating the Sherries of the past and they are confident they will not be seen as rebels. They have no intention of telling others what to do and don’t want to be marked out as punks. They simply believe that there is room for a return to focus on the vineyard, to differences in wine being led by the soil, which they see as complementary to the DO system.

Fino Barajuela 2013 was very well received in the market, more as a white wine with a little crianza biologica than as a DO Sherry. Willy says that he does not want too much flor as it can kill other characteristics of the wine. Before the end of this year the 2014 will be released and it is “more concentrated and sapid” than the 2013. There will be barely over 1,000 bottles of it which will be allocated before release.

This excellent article by A Espejo appeared in today's Diario de Jerez

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