Saturday, 21 June 2014

Juan Haurie, a Smart Businessman

Jean Haurie Nebot (1719-1794) was the first Haurie to arrive in Jerez and founded what was to later become the most international of the Sherry houses, Domecq. Yet little was known about this Frenchman who left Bearn in France like his relations, the Domecqs, and appeared in Jerez in the early days of the XVIII century. It was known that he had a bakery in the Plaza Plateros where he also sold silks and linen. He was a friend of fellow bachelor and neighbour Patrick Murphy, an Irishman of poor health to whom he lent money and helped him with most aspects of his wine business.

Javier Maldonado Rosso, a doctor in History, has studied Haurie, who in a recent public exhibition is revealed to have had a privileged mind, an incredible eye for business, and more importantly he was the man who led the transformation process from traditional viti-viniculture of XVIII century Jerez into its modern form.

When Murphy died, Haurie inherited everything, and now found himself mostly in the wine business. He was very shrewd, and no business opportunity passed him by. He was a tenant farmer of fields of cereal belonging to the Jerez aristocracy or to the Catholic Church, and this was a gold mine as he practised a sort of agrarian credit, giving out money against the next harvest but at a lower than market price. He did business with Cosme Duff Gordon, the British Consul in Cadiz, whom he appointed as his agent in Britain.

Perhaps his principal contribution was to do with viti-viniculture. Haurie summoned from France his four Haurie nephews, Juan Jose, Juan Pedro, Juan Carlos and Juan Luis, as well as his Domecq nephew, Pedro Domecq Lembeye and together they established the firm of Juan Haurie & Sobrinos in 1791. The company progressed well until it later reached the hands of Juan Carlos, who not only brought the firm to bankruptcy, but brought shame and hatred on himself for siding with the French during the Napoleonic invasion.

Juan Haurie wanted for nothing. To complete his requirements, he acquired 70 hectares of fine vineyard, buying more year after year including some on a fine slope in the Macharnudo. He managed to integrate all the processes of production of Sherry with those of sales abroad, from growing the grapes to selling aged wine on foreign markets through his British agent. He was therefore a grower, bodeguero and exporter, something no one else had yet achieved.

It had not been easy, though. He was up against the Gremio de Vinateria de Jerez (Guild of Vintners) which fixed prices for grapes and wine, imposed export quotas and controlled wages, as well as prohibiting merchants from keeping large stocks. The idea was to keep profits in the hands of the growers, but all it succeeded in doing was to restrict the growth of trade until it was wound up in 1834.

Faced with this ridiculous system, Haurie proposed a new, liberal agro-industrial system: he defended and practised the production of finished wines, that is, wines aged and blended to the taste of the customer (which required large stocks). Furthermore he proposed the abolition of fixed prices, and the freedom to sell wine all year round – another Gremio restriction. The proposed new liberal system needed a new style of company capable of developing it. These were the almacenistas and the ageing and shipping bodegas.

Sharp as a tack, Haurie knew how to attract the support of others like him.  In 1772 he initiated the collection of signatures among the small growers who hated the Gremio. On the 5th of May the following year Haurie took the definitive step, presenting to the Council of Castilla (effectively the government) a formal request for the Gremio to be wound up. This engendered bitter argument between the two sides and became known as the “Haurie Case”, recognising him as the main promoter of the cause against the Gremio’s restrictions. This earned him some respect and he was seen as a leader giving hope to the Jerez wine producing bourgeoisie. He and his supporters were known as “Juan Haurie and his accomplices”, committed to political action and participating in economic societies, becoming almost a political party and gaining considerable influence as representatives of the people.

Slowly the Gremio began to lose its powers. Haurie moved on. As a representative of the people, he set about improving the upbringing of foundlings, the improvement of conditions for prisoners and the speeding up of their prosecution, the exemption of citizens of the requirement to lodge troops in their homes, among many improvements. His greatest achievements, however were in the fields of business and politics because the transformation of the traditional viti-viniculture of Jerez was a state-level matter with international importance.

Haurie came out on top. A Royal Decree of 1778 liberalised the production and commerce of wine throughout the whole country, invalidating the ordinances of the Gremio. Thus, the modernisation of viti-viniculture in the Jerez area advanced rapidly as did the demise of the Gremio system, which was abolished finally in 1834.

Interestingly, some of Haurie’s wine still exists in the ancient soleras held by Osborne, who bought them from Domecq who inherited them from Haurie. These VORS wines are Sibarita and Capuchino, and are available commercially in very limited quantities.

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