Sunday, 25 September 2016

25.9.16 A New Era for Sherry

This is an optimistic article by Á Espejo published in yesterday’s Diario de Jerez

The bodegas are leaving behind long decades of crisis marked by high volumes and low prices, and a new cycle of growth is underway with a return to the origins and with the premise of not repeating the mistakes of the past.

It can be felt in the atmosphere. The bodegas are getting back into their stride and looking forward eagerly and hopefully to a new era for the wine of Jerez which looks like being one of expansion. But unlike the boom of the 1970s, which was a period of massive production and unsustainably low prices, they are now focusing on quality and added value, boosted by wine tourism and gastronomy which are helping the renaissance of a wine which looks back proudly to the origins which gave it its unique identity.

This hopeful new dawn full of opportunity is also catching on in the areas of public administration and finance which are committed to the common cause of repositioning Sherry to the highest ranking after a long period lost in the desert, a prolonged crisis from which at last light can be seen at the end of the tunnel. However, great care must be taken to show that lessons have been learned for the avoidance of the mistakes of the past of which there only too many examples.

These are the general conclusions reached at the “Editor’s Breakfast”, a debate held this week at the offices of the Diario de Jerez titled “A New Era for Sherry” sponsored by Banco Sabadell. The highly qualified people present were the director of the Consejo Regulador, César Saldaña, two oenologists: Antonio Flores of González Byass and Manuel Valcárcel of Fundador, the Junta’s director general for industry and the agro-alimentary chain Rosa Ríos, the director of business banking at Sabadell, Mauricio González, and of course the director of Diario de Jerez, Rafael Navas.

During the debate it was pointed out that Sherry has reached a point where the increase in value has compensated for the fall in sales volume. This loss corresponds to the cheap buyers’ own brands (BOB) which do nothing for the reputation of Sherry, and which are being dropped in order to focus on the high quality bodega brands.

According to César Saldaña there is now a proper balance in production, fruit of the painful restructuring of the trade, and he stressed the need to understand the position Sherry is now in so as to make the right decisions and reinvest in the future. The oenologists agreed on the importance of the land, the various historic pagos, which are coming back into fashion but, as César Saldaña said, the trade had abandoned the quality they offered for the standard fare offered by the solera system. “Sherry is made in the vineyard, but for too long we have been selling wine made in the bodega”, he said, pointing out the fundamental role the vineyard plays on the stage of quality winemaking.

The winemakers agreed, but Antonio Flores made the point that while a return to focusing on the pagos is vital, the bodega also has a role: Sherry IS made in the vineyard, but it is made great in the bodega. Manuel Valcárcel agreed, saying that Sherry is really two wines: the one made in the vineyard like everywhere else, but also the one produced in a bodega over very many years.

The bodegas are well aware that BOBs will be scrapped, and in fact González Byass, later followed by some others such as Fundador, stopped producing them a while back. But some will keep on producing them until demand finally drops, when new, younger, better off consumers who can be courted in the social networks and are prepared to travel to the region overtake the traditional consumers. The latter are still quite numerous, usually aged over 75 and to whom Sherry is more of a drink than a wine, but their numbers are naturally in decline. There is a third type of consumer: the occasional one, usually linked to the ferias and pilgrimages. They are quite stable consumers and can be grouped with the younger ones, whose numbers are growing unceasingly and to whom the Consejo is directing all its generic promotional efforts.

The professionals in the Sherry trade also point out the essential role played by education, and both the bodegas and the Consejo are heavily involved with this, as well as wine tourism and gastronomy, the fundamental pillars of the resurrection of Sherry. And it is working: the Sherry and Brandy Route of Jerez is the second most popular in Spain receiving over 400,000 visitors annually.

Rosa Ríos mentioned that the Junta de Andalucía is working with the Sherry trade by sharing out up to 4.2 million euros of EU funds from the Integrated Territories Initiative in support of wine tourism, and underlined the Junta’s support for the trade, which also has some 2 million euros in aid for promotion in third countries. She made the important point that “there is room to increase value, but we must commercialise better”. She said “the Junta is here to help, because the trade is dynamic, unique and a leading exporter, a road which started here centuries ago.”

The topic of Vinoble was discussed. The biennial wine fair has rather lost its way in recent years for lack of political and public support, but Rosa Ríos is prepared to wipe the slate clean and start again. Also discussed was the dynamic young breed of grower-winemakers who are producing such interesting wines from classic soils in the area but for regulatory reasons cannot get the support of the Consejo. The Consejo is not ruling out their future incorporation, however. Rosa Ríos expressed her willingness to collaborate in eliminating obstacles saying “if the current law isn’t working, then it should be changed.”

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