Sunday 11 September 2016

Bodegas: Ignacio Fernández de Castro

The youngest of the eight children of the merchant Simón Fernández de Castro and Manuela Gutiérrez de Castro, Ignacio was born in Comillas (Santander) in 1793. He worked his way up the family business reaching the position of captain and undertook many trips to the Americas, marrying Concepción de Bustamante y Padilla in Mexico in 1818. They had eleven children.

With the emancipation of the American colonies in the 1830s, he resolved that his trading future lay in Europe and the east and decided to relocate to Cádiz, the very epicentre of Spanish trade at the time. Then, the trade in wine was growing fast and in 1840 he established a family mercantile business in the city under the name Ignacio Fernández de Castro y Compañia with trade in the Philippines in mind. He soon integrated with local society and by 1849 was president of the board of trade.

Ignacio saw great opportunities: he used his ships to provide an infrastructure of maritime services, built a steam-powered slipway at the Trocadero and owned extensive warehousing, he set up a marine insurance company with Lloyds, and was a board member of the Banco de Cádiz. His principal interests however lay in marine transport of goods and passengers between Cádiz and the Philippines, and his preferred vessel was the clipper.

An amazingly varied list of goods shipped to the Philipines to subsidiary Bustamante

In 1836 he commissioned Vicente Pérez of El Puerto de Santa María to buy at auction an XVIII century bodega complex of 948 square metres in the Calle Aurora, 9, in the Campo de Gia district. Vineyards were also purchased so that Sherry could be produced from vine to bottle under the brand name Y.F.C. He then appointed Calixto García y Habea, an almacenista and wine expert from El Puerto, to manage the bodegas. This worked well, as Ignacio’s company had the means to transport and distribute the Sherry to its various markets. Calixto, along with his partner, Fernando Barreda, maintained their own bodega in Calle Santo Domingo and also used this system which proved very economical.

The business had grown immensely and Ignacio was well organised with various branches round the world, where possible run by family members who could report back. For instance Sherry was sent to the Philippines branch, Bustamante y Sobrinos, without necessarily having a firm order, but Bustamante could make the sales locally and report back on preferred styles. Since it took over three months to get there, the wine had to be well fined, and the local market preferred it no stronger than 18 degrees.

Things were to change, however. The arrival in the early 1850s of oidium, a fungal disease, drastically reduced yields and quality, and prices soared. Ignacio decided to act as an intermediary rather than sell his own wine. At the time Britain was becoming the largest market, and he turned his attention there. He organised routes from the Philippines to Britain with a stop-over in Cádiz, and invested in 55 hectares more vineyard.

By 1860, Ignacio was 67 years old and the problems began to mount. Two important relatives, one running Cádiz and the other running Manila, died, another who took over Manila was useless, and there were ever fewer family members to rely on. His wife was ill, the ships’ captains were no longer family or friends, Calixto García died and his son was difficult to deal with. Competition had increased and a crisis developed because of overproduction of wine and a fall in quality. Steamships were taking over the sea routes and the Bank of Cádiz went bust. Ignacio Fernández de Castro y Cia went into liquidation in 1867 and was bought by Cosens & Co. Ignacio, now an old man, returned to Comillas, his birthplace where he died in 1874 aged 81.

Most information gleaned from Maria del Carmen Cozar Navarro in the book Nueve Bodegueros

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