20th century recollections of days working with Spanish Wine Producers.
Some while ago towards the end of the twentieth century – I recall very many happy days with the famous sherry shipper – Gonzalez Byass.
At an early point in my experience I remember being plunged into the deep end, by being asked to present a talk on Sherry to either a group of Sommeliers or to the London branch of the United Kingdom Bartenders Guild at The Inn on The Park, London.
After a brief introduction, I decided to let the wines do the talking which was lead by the world’s number one Fino – “Tio Pepe” (English translation meaning, “Uncle Joe”)! This was followed by a few other branded styles like La Concha, (the shell) an Amontillado – named after a bodega with the same name, built in 1862 an incredibly stunning design attributed to the famous French engineer, Alexander Gustave Eiffel, clearly still visible within the Gonzalez Byass headquarters in Jerez de la Frontera, south Spain.
Although UK based, I visited Jerez often – usually with important UK buyers – invariably staying at Hotel Jerez, where each Gonzalez Byass guest was greeted with a “welcome to Jerez” note in their room and complimentary half bottle of Tio Pepe, ready chilled!
A fascinating scene filmed a while ago in one of the bodegas at Gonzalez Byass – features a mouse ascending a small ladder hooked up on the top of a copita (traditional glass for drinking Sherry, long slender tulip in shape) filled with Sherry for daily sips at eleven o’clock!
[*A Sherry “Butt” holds up to 108 gallons or nearly 491 litres].
On the subject of Sherry – a book entitled “Sherry” “The Noble Wine” (once described as the “Sherry Bible”) was written by Manuel M Gonzalez Gordon, K.B.E. Marques de Bonanza – whom I first met in Jerez on 23 June 1973. This book is a very thorough narrative all about Sherry and quickly became a useful reference book, during my formative years in the wine-trade.
In addition to a wide range of Sherries, Vintage Port, Chinchon and Spanish Brandies, other Spanish wines were distributed by Gonzalez Byass UK. One of these was a Cava called Jean Perico, a competitively priced sparkling wine produced by Gonzalez Dubosc in San Sadurni de Noya, Penedes. Although I managed a wide distribution of this brand – it once had a fantastically regular following in a Baker Street bar in London called Winepress Wine Bar – run by a couple of old wine-trade chums – Alex Taylor (now in Gaillac) and Sam Sandbach (now running Ledbury Wine Ltd. and Winepress Wine Agencies in Gloucestershire).
Another favourite wine brand, from those heady days, was Berberana Rioja, from Rioja Alta, based in Cenicero (meaning “ashtray” in English). Their range included Carta de Plata, Carta de Oro, some Reservas (five year wines) and some superb (seven year wines) being Gran Reservas – in fact I still have a bottle of their 1964 Gran Reserva. Miguel Merino, whom I met in the 80’s once handled exports for Bodegas Berberana – now has his own business based in Briones (in the heart of Rioja Alta) called Bodegas Miguel Merino. Stemming from sometime in the late 80’s – Gonzalez Byass began to market their own range of Riojas from Bodegas Beronia, which continues.