Monday 23 October 2017

If We Break the Mystique of Sherry We Will Ruin It

An interview with Lustau’s oenologist Sergio Martínez in yesterday’s Diario de Jerez

Having already won the International Wine Challenge (IWC) World’s Best Fortified Winemaker in July, Sergio Martínez, oenologist at Bodegas Lustau, has now won the IWC Merchant Awards Spain Best Spanish Winemaker. Lustau seems to win so many prizes; Sergio’s predecessor, Manuel Lozano, won the former award no fewer than seven times consecutively.

You managed to win the award at first attempt.
Many might see it that way, but I’ve been working at Lustau since 2003 and since 2004 with Manolo (Manuel Lozano, Sergio’s predecessor. I am doing everything in practically the same way and the only real difference is that before, Manolo was in charge and now it is me. Given that he was 61, I was gradually working to take over from him when he retired, but unfortunately that happened sooner than expected when he died suddenly last year.

“Continuity and a new air”, I think those were the words chosen by the firm in the announcement of your appointment.
Continuity is logical because Manolo set the guidelines, a route which bore fruit, and we need to follow in the same direction. And a new air because I am younger and more into technology. Manolo followed a more traditional, more classical line. I believe Manolo was the only person in the whole of Grupo Caballero who still used a typewriter. I share the same philosophy as him but with more current ideas.

What do these awards mean?
For me it means enormous personal gratification and professional satisfaction and I am delighted for the whole team at Lustau because each member brings something to it, from the one who tops up the soleras to the one who decides on investment. It is a sign that all the cogs are working together.

Part of the awards belongs to Manuel Lozano.
Absolutely and I pointed that out at the awards ceremony in London, because he set the bar and it would be stupid to deviate from his roadmap.

Did you think beforehand that you could win?
Honestly, yes. All the time I saw Manolo, his career and how he worked every day and dreamed that one day I could win it, but I never expected it to be so soon. But that will not necessarily hold me to continue working the same way. Just the nomination was fantastic, but if I won it, so much the better!

Has someone with so short a career as an oenologist ever won the award before?
I really don’t know, but Lustau has won 30% of the World’s Best Fortified Winemaker awards; manolo won it seven times and Manuel Arcila and Juan Fuentes won it before him. I am very grateful to the firm for supporting continuity, for natural succession, and there is the result, a real success.

To what is owed the success of the Lustau wines in this competition?
The wines are very well looked after, pampered from the vine to the glass as Manolo used to say. We are right on top of the whole process and attend to every detail. We are always looking for quality – excellence – and that is what people want.

How did an isleño (someone from San Fernando, Cádiz) land in Jerez?
Although I am from San Fernando, my maternal aunt was from Chiclana; she had a vineyard and was a member of the local cooperative, and that world always attracted me. I was finishing my studies for a career in chemistry and six months of practical sessions cropped up at Lustau in the quality control department with a certain Manuel Lozano as tutor. When I finished they offered me the post of capataz as the old one was retiring. They gave me that opportunity, and I am still here.

Manolo wasn’t keen to leave his bodega, are you more of a travelling oenologist?
It’s true that Manolo didn’t like going anywhere; he was a real bodega man. I‘m not all that keen either as I am a little shy but little by little one gets moving, and I do understand that the figure of the oenologist offers great commercial support.

Lustau has a range of en rama wines; Finos from jerez and El Puerto de Santa María and a Manzanilla from Sanlúcar. So is there a difference between Fino and Manzanilla?
It is a delicate matter and one has to draw a fine line. By its location and definition Manzanilla can only come from Sanlúcar. What differentiates it from Jerez, for example, is that the flor covers the wine’s surface all year round thanks to the microclimate. So using the term Fino in Sanlúcar goes against the meaning of Manzanilla in my opinion.

So how do you know what you are drinking then, since a Consejo Regulador commission concluded that there is no way, divine or human, of differentiating between Fino and Manzanilla?

Strictly speaking, if there is a study which says not, then fine, but there is a clear organoleptic difference because Manzanilla grows more flor. There is a lot of legend around the wines of Jerez and if we go there we will break the magic, the mystique and ruin the Denominación de Origen.

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