A blog and review on all things Sherry. It is about tasting, enjoyment and learning more about the World’s Finest Wine. "Sherry is a thoroughbred" as Javier Hidalgo rightly puts it. Included are the amazing local Brandies and the remarkably good table wines also produced in the province of Cádiz.
The Daily Life of the Sherry Barons in the Late XIX and Early XX Centuries
The second half of the XIX century was very prosperous for
the Sherry business. The 1850s and 1860s were a period of commercial splendour
supported by exports. Sales were growing healthily and a record volume was
reached in 1873. The arrival of the railway facilitated the business of this
progressive and industrious bourgeoisie, who held the political and urban reins
of the city, while they amassed fortunes.
Writer and producer of Manzanilla, Manuel Barbadillo
distinguished two classes of wine producer: those who were aristocratic, and
those who were not. The aristocracy had lineage from antiquity, some with coats
of arms dating way back, and went around with haughty even contemptuous smiles
for those who had entered the business in the era pre First World War. These
were the first, the great exporters, the gentlemen, those who played Polo,
drank whisky, had Irish nurses, sent their sons to prestigious English
universities and bathed in chilled pools.
At the beginning of the XX century there were three good
friends with great houses and large families. One was Juan Pedro Domecq Nuñez
de Villavicencio, first Marques de Domecq, who lived during a certain stage in
his life at the Palacio Cristina (now known as the Palacio Domecq). Another was Joaquin Rivero O’Neale, who had
entered the Sherry trade through the ancient house of Cabeza de Aranda y Zarco,
and who lived in a palatial house in the Plaza Rivero, also in exquisite taste.
And there was Julian Pemartin Carrera, father of Julian Pemartin Sanjuan, the author,
along with his wife, Mercedes Diez y Zurita, of the Diccionario del Vino de
Jerez – essential for those serious about the study of Sherry. He lived in a
palatial house on the Plaza de las Angustias, now a hotel.
The XVIII C Palacio Domecq
Another great house is El Altillo, with its gothic chapel,
built about 150 years ago by Manuel Maria Gonzalez Angel, founder of Gonzalez
Byass as a peaceful family retreat in summer. Time has stood still at this
classic house of the Victorian era. Its last family occupants were the seven
daughters (known as “las Altillanas”) of Cristobal de la Quintana and Margarita
Gonzalez Gordon. The daughters conserved the house exactly as it was, like a
living museum of a bygone era, with cabinets of fine English china, and table
linen. The rooms still smell of the past. It's as if Las Altillanas might appear at any
At dawn, in those days, there were servants rushing about
the stables and coachhouses, fires were lit, kitchens readied, horses were
brushed and coaches polished, ready for el Gran Señor to rush off to the
bodega. The horse is extremely important in the history of Jerez, and the
development of the business. It was a sign of success, prosperity, and when
horses multiplied and were attached to great coaches; they became a real status
One day Manuel Misa y Bertemati, Conde de Bayona was
entertaining important visitors, friends of his, among whom was the city
Magistrate, Manuel Monti y Diaz. Over (quite a few) copitas their conversation
went like this:
- Sherry seems to be selling really quickly, as if it were
on horseback, said Monti.
- The butts all lined up look like a cavalry squadron, said
- Yes, said Monti, each butt the size of a colt which needs
to be tamed.
The Conde drifted off into explanations of the bodega, how the
wine was made, the different types, a copa of fino here, a copa of oloroso
there, ending up with the sweet wines.
- Looks like the wine is galloping, said Monti.
- It’s as if it were on horseback.
- Señor Conde! Said Monti, it feels like the horses are galloping
in my veins! What could it be?
- The aristocratic nature of the wine, my dear Magistrate!
Fino is an English horse, Amontillado, an Arab horse, and Oloroso a Jerezano
- Well let’s drink a toast to your wines, Señor Conde, said
- Let’s drink to our horses, gentlemen, said Monti.
- Let it be so! Said the Conde.
The list of staff in these grand houses is long. There were
servants for the keys, dining room servants, gentle-man’s gentlemen, lady’s
chambermaids, nurses and governesses for the children, cleaners, launderers,
ironers, dining room waiters in grey livery with blue trousers, caps and silver
buttons, sometimes with the family crest, some to serve food and some to serve
wine, and stable boys. All occupied the upper floor, while the family occupied
the first floor which had more sunlight and better accessibility. Every morning
the master would go downstairs to the dining room with the children and they
would drink plenty of coffee and eat toast with jam before going about their
The mansion of Pedro Nolasco Gonzalez de Soto, first Marques
de Torresoto, was another such household, and became one of the best known in
Jerez. The city had inns, but there was no suitable hotel, so people stayed at their friends' houses. Guests of the
Marques included Marconi, Sorolla (famous Spanish painter) and Bastida, all of
whom admired his collection of antiques collected from all round the world.
As to food, the English way was observed, if not strictly
followed, as families of Spanish and French origin needed a better lunch than
the English 1 o’clock sandwich of roast beef and gherkin or salmon and salad.
The continentals were more accustomed to a three course lunch accompanied by
Sherry. They would usually serve soup made from meat stock and various
vegetables, or just the stock with rice or pasta. Eggs cooked in various ways,
chick pea stews with chicken or game birds, pickled partridge, pigeon with
golden onion, quail wrapped in ham or thrush in vine leaves were all dishes
accompanied by Sherry: Oloroso with soup and chick peas, Amontillado with fowl.
Then there were fresh fruit, meringues floating in custard, soufflés or mousses
before finishing with a glass of brandy. At Calle Porvera, 3, Carolina Pemartin
de Sanchez Romate had an excellent table and service, as did Maria Luisa
Hidalgo, wife of Tomas Diez Carrera who lived in the Calle Caballeros.
The siesta was sacred. The diligent bodeguero just nodded
off briefly, although there were some who would go to bed for a while, rather than have just
a quick nap on the sofa. Thus visits took place after 6.00. In those houses
which still had no telephone, there was always a servant to take somebody’s
card, and in those houses which did, the reply to an inopportune call might
have gone like this:
- Is El Señor at home?
- El Señor is occupied (meaning perhaps sleeping, reading,
All the while, the relationship with England gradually
changed from simple commercial necessity to a sign of distinction with the
appearance of the “gentleman” figure. Everything English was “a la mode”; “Sherry
barons” were seen in hats by Lock and suits from Savile Row. They drove English style carriages to banquets prepared by French chefs. They wore suits from
John & Peggs, shirts from Beal & Immand, hats from Andre & Scott,
shoes from Roberts, drove carriages from
Peter’s, and bought sporting items from Hammond.
Having reached the top economically, many of the Sherry
Barons managed to consolidate their social prestige by taking up civic posts. There
were many examples, such as Juan Haurie, Agustin Blazquez, Manuel Francisco de
Paul, Alberto Ramos Santana, Antonio Otaolaurruchi, EduardoHidalgo Verjano,
Pedro Barbadillo Ambrosy, Carlos Delgado, Tomas Barbadillo. All were mayors of
their respective towns.
Many others were members of institutions, such as
Rafael Rivero, Juan Pedro Domecq, Pedro Carlos Gordon, Jose Pemartin, Guillermo
Garvey, all members of the Economic Society of Friends of the Nation. The first
board of the Atheneum of Jerez had a few as well: Pedro Domecq y Villavicencio,
Carlos de Bertemati, Carlos Rivero y Gordon, Rafael Estevez and Francisco
Free time was also invested in English sports which the
Marques de Torresoto had introduced, such as Polo. Perico Gonzalez Soto wrote
from London to his father Manuel Maria, “This is a new sport which requires the
blood of a Villavicencio, the courage of an Estopiñan and the skill of a
Cabrera”. Many members of the Jerez Polo Club were Sherry people, such as:
Richard Davies, the Lassaletta Vergara brothers, Carl and Alexander Williams,
the MacKenzie brothers and the Isasi Gonzalez brothers. Torresoto also
introduced tennis and clay pigeon shooting, and founded the Lawn Tennis
Association and the Gun Club of Jerez.
Back at home, they played the piano, read from their library
or simply enjoyed a leisurely dinner, always between 8.00 and 9.00 in the
evening. This was a simpler meal than lunch and consisted of some sort of soup
in a cup, fish in sauce, meat and a dessert. From 1890, Jerez had electric
lighting, being the first city in Spain to dispense with gas. Thus was resolved
the big problem of going about the streets at night, when one had to be
accompanied by a servant with a stout stick, according to the writer Sutter. In
those days there were many casinos, but the Sherry Barons chose to go to the
Jockey Club of Jerez or the Grand National Club.
Every Sunday, after 12 o’ clock mass, the Barons attended to
the poor, who had formed queues outside their mansions. Wealth and the good use
of it; its straightforward Christian effectiveness and means of soaking up of
social conflicts appealed to the philanthropic side of the Domecq Loustaus, the
Sanchez Romates, to Rafael Rivero and the Misa brothers. For this reason – and
many others – the XIX century bourgeoisie received plenty of honours: Tomas
Osborne became a Caballero of the Order of Carlos III, Patricio Garvey became
Steward to the King, and many, many others received them too, such as the
Marques de Misa, the Conde de Osborne, the Marques de Bonanza, the Marques de
Where did our great-great grandfathers find the time?