Sunday 24 September 2017

Bodegas: Gorman & Co

Dr. John Gorman (MD MRCS) was an English surgeon who decided to change careers and join the wine trade. He spent most of the latter part of his life in El Puerto de Santa María exporting quality Sherry to Gorman, Hamilton & Thorby, wine merchants of which he was a partner, with offices at 16 Mark Lane London, a street noted for wine merchants. The firm later included William Hastings Hughes until the partnership was dissolved in 1859. The Sherry business was comparatively small scale, exporting 296 butts in 1856 (compared to Burdon’s 3507). This number had risen to 650 butts by the late 1860s. The wine was sold under the firm’s name in the London area.

Gorman was a hands-on type with a thorough knowledge of the Sherry business and indeed wine in general. His wine was highly recommended by Richard Ford (1796-1858) in his book “A Handbook for Travellers in Spain” of 1846. This recommendation would increase Gorman’s sales enormously, at least for a while. Ford tells us that Gorman acted as both manager and capataz of the bodega and that it was well worth paying a visit.

A contemporary quayside at El Puerto (foto:gentedelpuerto)

Gorman's knowledge was put to good use in 1823 when he gave evidence to the British Board of Trade on the quality of Sherry. He produced an amazing list of all the vineyards, their size, their soils, number of butts produced and their owners. He reckoned that the 25,000 acres or just over 10,000 hectares (there are only 7,000 now) was close to the limit of planting to produce quality wine, and said that the wine shipped to Britain was blended to suit the British taste and much was therefore not natural.

In 1852 he gave evidence to a House of Commons committee that increasing excise duty was counterproductive, saying also that a properly made Sherry did not need as much alcohol as some inferior wines contained. He pointed out that much wine shipped as “Sherry” was not genuine and needed to be fortified. In his view, if the public could learn to drink natural wines, they would drink better and so drink more, and thus raise Government revenue.

Gorman is credited with being the first to ship Manzanilla to England, and he described it as “a natural wine, sub-bitter with a fragrant aroma, very pure, and might be drunk by those who have any organic affection or inflammatory disease”. There is no record of the business, at least under that name, after the 1870s, when presumably Gorman died.

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