Sunday, 28 October 2018

Ángel Espejo interviews Luis and Willy Pérez

“The wine of Jerez should be competing in the Champions League of great wines like Burgundy, Bordeaux, Champagne or Barolo… and to do that there is no need for it to lose its identity”.

This identity and its adaption to market demand are the philosopher´s stone behind the work which Luís Pérez and his son Willy are developing at their family firm Bodegas Luís Pérez, which recently won a prize in the Andalucía Agriculture and Fisheries Awards 2017 for innovation related to the recuperation of old styles of wine and selling them to an educated public, and for their important work in the digital mapping of the pagos in the area. 

This prize is an added incentive for Luís and Willy who are at the forefront of a winemaking project which in barely a decade and a half has been shaking up the provincial winemaking scene, first with the Vinos de la Tierra de Cádiz reds and then with the recuperation of the old style wines, the so called Sherry style whites.

What satisfies them most is that “the prize recognises the innovation born of tradition, because as my father says, being artisans doesn´t imply using the tools of three centuries ago” says Willy, who shares the merit for the painstaking work of cataloguing the historic pagos of Jerez with the young winemaker from Sanlúcar, Ramiro Ibáñez.

Willy and Luis Perez in their bodega (foto:MAGonzalez,diariodejerez)

The fruit of Luís´restless need to express his knowledge of wine after a life deeply involved with it – he combined his work at a big Sherry bodega with being a teacher of oenology at Cádiz University – was the start of his own winemaking journey with the purchase in 2002 of the Hacienda Vistahermosa, an old abandoned casa de viña with lagar which was replanted with the red grape varieties used to make Garum and Samaruco firstly and later Petit Verdot.

Them move into making Sherry and the old Sherry style white wines, or “ajerezados” as Willy calls them, came years later once Willy had completed his training as an oenologist in Australia and had returned to the family business.

“Everything which is seen today as innovation was once tradition” says his father Luis, who points out that “perhaps Sherry is in crisis, stagnating, and its values, forgotten up till now, need to be reincorporated” because “the high walls of the bodegas blocked our view of the vineyard and we forgot the origin”.

The prize is a stimulus to keep working along the same lines, but the best is that “we are doing what we like doing and what we must do” says Luis, while Willy points out that the search for identity ties in with the objective of the bodega which is “to be leaders in the production of the old style wines, recuperating lost techniques such as the sunning of the grapes for dry white wines”.

“It was about the search for our identity and adapting it to market demand, something which Jerez always knew how to do, so it is fundamental to know the history; what wines were made and why in terms of the circumstances of each period” says Willy, the driving force behind the bodega´s transition to indigenous grape varieties which started with Tintilla de Rota “ the wine we export most of now” and then with “the old Sherry style whites which used to be known in the area as vinos de pasto”.

The red Vinos de la Tierra de Cádiz served as a base for the Barajuela Project which the Pérez´undertook for the recuperation of the old Sherry style wines which is based at El Corregidor, a vineyard with very old vines which once belonged to Sandeman.

In the vineyard at Vistahermosa (foto:MAGonzalez,diariodejerez)

 The Pérez family works with the idea that the old Sherry style wines are not substitutes for Sherry but rather a complement to it “because the area needs a base wine to supply the bodegas” in the face of the prolonged fall in sales of the DO vinos generosos.

“Fortunately, many bodegas are now making these white wines as well as Sherries which relate to the vineyard, and there has been great market uptake and they can be sold at a higher price”.

For the Pérez family this turnaround “demonstrates that there is the capacity to adapt without the loss of identity, whose unmistakeable hallmarks are the albariza and the Atlantic”, distinctive features which bring “finesse” to these wines “and which exist nowhere else”.

Willy is convinced that the next step, the incorporation of the old style whites into the Denomination of Origin will happen as a matter of course, as in fact there is already agreement on the matter in the body of the Consejo Regulador, something which has already happened in other regions like Montilla-Moriles.

From there on, the Marco de Jerez with its flagship signs of identity Will be in a position to compete in the Champions League along with the great wines of France, Italy or Germany. And it will compete with two advantages: the stamp of the albariza soil which impregnates all wines born in this land, and the ability to sell them with the name of the pago from which they came.

“Our hallmark albariza is easily identifiable and if we also have the good fortune to apply the name of the pago, we can compete with Burgundy, Champagne, Bordeaux, Barolo etc in the Champions League of wines which is where Jerez should be playing” says Willy who, in line with many other winemakers who have put their efforts into the old style whites and Sherries which come from single pagos, is optimistic and confident that the day will come sooner rather than later “because the public is our guide and they want old Sherry style white wine and Tintilla, wines from indigenous grapes which only come from here”.

Even with all this going on, Willy and his father don´t relax for a moment and have already embarked on a new project which stems from their worry about climate change and the need to increase acidity. “We have been working on a hybrid of Tintilla and Palomino simply by a natural mixing of pollen without laboratory intervention, which was practised in the area three hundred years ago, even during Moorish times, and now we have the berries to plant. The climate is changing" – as the historical study made by Willy and Ramiro demonstrates – "and if we don´t do anything the next generation will slap us in the face for not leaving them a proper legacy".

 Ángel Espejo is the editor of Diario de Jerez.

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