Wednesday, 27 November 2013

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 minute.

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 symbol.

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 Misa.
- 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 horse.
- Well let’s drink a toast to your wines, Señor Conde, said the visitors.
- 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 respective business.

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, trimming roses…)

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 Ivison O’Neale.

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 Domecq d’Usquain.

Where did our great-great grandfathers find the time?

(From Diario Jerez)

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