TEW’s Almacenistas at Sherryfest
Ana Cabestrero of El Maestro Sierra
After Sherry sales peaked in the 1940’s, it took 20-30 years for a corporate climate to follow. In the 1960’s & 70’s, small family owned bodegas were no longer producing and bottling their own wines, but were now being modernized with machinery and consolidated as they started producing wines for the good of the greater empire, a practice that wiped out a multitude of multi-generational practices and soleras.
And so, it was no surprise to see that there were only 20 bodegas present at Monday’s Grand Tasting at the Ace Hotel. A spectacular event in Liberty Hall, it was most humbling to taste the wines of El Maestro Sierra, Gutiérrez Colosía, César Florido, La Cigarrera and Grant, in the company of other small and big house Sherry producers. And while a fondness for wine is typically determined by what’s in the glass, it’s often context that best illustrates the true brilliance of one’s sensorial experience.
Carlota Gutierrez of Gutierrez Colosia
“What made it notable was the rapid nature of the change,” writes Peter Liem of the 1960’s & 70’s in Sherry, Manzanilla & Montilla, A Guide to the Traditional Wines of Andalucía, “and the relatively sudden transformation of an industry of independent bodegas owned by families of the wine aristocracy into one dominated by an increasingly corporate culture, with spreadsheets and profits often superseding wine-oriented issues such as quality, authenticity and tradition.”
Then coined criadoras de vinos, the persons who crafted the original wines that were sold to the larger wineries, the almacenistas were “encouraged” to sell their wines to the bigger houses, said Carmen Pou of Gutierrez Colosia, until all of the bodegas were no more than cogs in the well-greased wheels of the profit-driven corporations. And while these sales did benefit the families that sold, they paid dearly with the loss of direct sales and of their identities. By the time the walls came crumbling in 1997, with the formation of the European Union, there was only a smattering of traditional, family owned bodegas left to sell direct.
Of these 20 producers who attended, five are distributed by TEW. And with the exception of Emilio Hidalgo, whose La Panesa Fino Especial and Villapanés Oloroso are equally superior, the sherries of El Maestro Sierra, Gutiérrez Colosía, César Florido, La Cigarrera and Grant are the best in quality and complexity, with rich familial histories behind the contents of every solera.
From the team of Carmen Pou and Juan Carlos Gutiérrez and their two daughters, who, since 1997, have been bottling their own wines at Guitérrez Colosía in El Puerto de Santa María, where they are one of three wineries left; to Ana Cabestrero of El Maestro Sierra, a 200 year old winery, who is the only female Capataz (cellar master) to run a Sherry house, the families behind these Bodegas are some of the few left in the D.O. of Jerez-Xérès-Sherry y Manzanilla.
Ignacio Hidalgo of La Cigarrera
As the 9th generation at La Cigarrera, Ignacio Hidalgo is from the oldest winery in situ in Sanlúcar, where it’s the low elevation location of the Bodega, that matters most. Just down the coast from La Cigarrera sits César Florido, one of the two last remaining Bodegas in the town of Chipiona, down from the 83 wineries that once existed in this village.
If it weren’t for the courage of their convictions, not one of these bodegas would be standing, and in some cases, bottling sherries that have been untouched in cask for generations. And as if tasting through these fine offerings weren’t enough, we also had the chance to sit and chat with each of our visiting producers, to learn more about the histories of their bodegas. Stay tuned for more on each Sherry house, which will be posted to our blog in the upcoming week.
Viva la Sherry Revolution!