Sherry Wine News

New horizons for biological ageing

Biological ageing is, without a doubt, one of the Jerez Region’s greatest contributions to the world of wine. Over the last few years, oenologists have shown that the last word hasn’t been said yet and new arrivals on the market lead us to wonder what this will lead to in the future. César Saldaña, Director General of the Regulatory Council, along with Montse Molina from Bodegas Barbadillo and Willy Pérez, from Bodegas Luis Pérez, discussed this at the last edition of Copa Jerez Forum.

 

 

Anywhere else in the world, the fact that millions of living organisms appear in wine while ageing would make all the alarms would go off. But in Jerez, it’s quite the opposite. There, winemakers have learned over time how to “domesticate” this phenomenon to make wines as unique as Fino and Manzanilla.

Montse Molina is oenologist at Barbadillo, which means that she’s in charge of one of the most important biological ageing systems in the Jerez Region and hence, responsible for an enormous expanse of flor—the yeast she so carefully oversees, just like the many experts who preceded her at the winery. Willy Pérez, also an oenologist, works mainly at Bodegas Luis Pérez but also works as a consultant on other independent projects. He brings to it the experience of starting from scratch and the advantage of being able to decide how heavy an influence he wants the velo de flor(layer of yeast) to have on the future wine he has in mind.

Montse confesses that, in spite of what is known about this type of ageing, she’s always amazed how each barrel of wine is a world in itself and this is probably why it continues to be a mystery to oenologists from other regions. “When we oenologists get together and the subject of Sherry Wines arises, my colleagues still refer to them as ‘your wines’—youunderstand them”. She adds that when she came to Sanlúcar from her native Catalonia, her goal was to be totally in control and know exactly what was occurring in each barrel. But she soon found out that “you have to learn to say ‘I don’t know’ and that’s ok, it’s just as good. The desire to be totally in control is unrealistic in this winemaking world” and concludes by saying that ageing wine under a veil of floris somewhat of a miracle—from the very moment biological ageing starts, there are clear signs that a transformation is taking place that makes these wines delicate, flavourful, long-lasting and concentrated.

At Copa Jerez Forum, Willy brought an idea  to the conversation for reflection. He stated that the palomino grape is very flexible, that it lends itself to many different things. That said, he feels we should go back to the 19th-century, pre-phylloxera palomino with yields of 1,000-3,000 kg per hectare in albariza soil. According to Willy “today’s yields are much higher, which makes it more diluted and that’s why people say palomino is a neutral variety, that biological ageing is needed in order to add colour, to create a more complex wine”. But he assures that when yields are brought down to 5,000, 6,000 or even 4,000 kg/hectare, palomino displays an organoleptic potential that even generates terpenes, something very scarce in palomino—it’s not a sauvignon blanc or any of those other, more expressive varieties.

“I think we need to rediscover palomino” declares Willy, as he refers to his connection to terroir(in Jerez, estates known as pagos) as one of the ways to do this. Palomino is a variety that has an immediate expression of terroir but again, he insists that yields must be reduced to make this possible.

By way of example, he mentions La Barajuela,a wine that treads a fine line between being a Fino and a white wine. It’s the product of an oenologist focusing more on the vineyard and leaving biological ageing more in the background. Here, the importance for Willy is for the wine to express the Carrascal estate’s terroir,the Pago del Corregidor.

“La Barajuelais a wine that displays a balance between fruit and biological ageing”, adding that “this is something that should serve as a complement to the way wines are made in Jerez—they shouldn’t be replaced. I’m not saying biological ageing should be phased out or stop being an objective for Jerez Region wines, because I love aged Manzanilla, Fino Amontillado, Amontillados…and the older the better! But I do think we should be open to new ways of winemaking that are more focused on the vine and that’s what La Barajuela is all about”.

Montse, on the other hand, addresses the subject along the same lines as Willy’s, but from the perspective of a larger operation, a huge winery like Barbadillo. “Manzanilla Solearis biologically aged for 6 years, and all that time, you have to make sure that you’re making a wine that has structure, that is capable of withstanding the yeast, that stays alive, which means it feeds off the must’s substance. That essentially means there has to be a rich basis to start with” she remarked.

She considers herself fortunate to be able to work with such a large number of wine barrels, devoting special care and attention to some of them for the seasonal extractions of unfiltered “en rama” Manzanilla. “This is a carefully selected extraction from a well-known solera that we’ve done for the last 16-17 years. Every year, 10 or 15 wine butts (600-litre capacity barrels) are chosen to bottle a limited amount of Manzanilla  en rama.

Montse admits that when she started out, in order to understand all this, she made the rounds with the cellar foreman, tasting every barrel of the solera(bottom row of barrels) and putting all the samples together in a jar. “When I finished, after about 2 hours, I had an idea in my head what the wine would be like because I had smelled 500 barrels and it was in my head; but when I tasted what was in the jar, it was surprisingly better! That was when I understood that each barrel is different, some are drier, others are fruitier, each one adds something different that helps make that final blend better”. For Montse, the value that the traditional solera y criaderasageing system offers isn’t contrary to what Willy mentioned earlier, in which he seeks getting the best expression from a given plot of land.

To conclude, Willy leaves a question up in the air, one which he feels every oenologist today should contemplate: “Is biological ageing an objective in itself or is it a way of refining my wine?”

 

Full transcription of the round-table discussion:

César Saldaña: First of all, I’d like to introduce two people who are very well known in the world of Sherry—first Montse Molina, oenologist at Barbadillo, who’s in charge of one of the most important biological ageing systems in the region. She has a degree in Pharmacy and a Master’s degree in Viticulture and Oenology. She came to the region 20 years ago, to Bodegas Barbadillo, where she continues to lead and develop numerous oenology projects.

And Willy Pérez, known to many of you, oenologist at Bodegas Luis Pérez but who also works as a consultant on various other independent projects.  Willy is passionate about the vine, vineyards and the study of ancient traditions in Jerez Region winemaking. He contributes to this discussion with knowledge and respect, but also with a contrasting, critical spirit.

It’s probably hard to be categorical about anything, but a lot of us think that the biological ageing process is one of the greatest contributions Jerez has made to the world of oenology. This particular system, in which we foster the contact of our wines with a series of microorganisms that are going to evolve and make the wine evolve, is incredible. That said, if you talk about living microorganisms in wine to an oenologist from anywhere else, it would cause repulsion, but that’s really what it is.

With origins that are lost in time and based on empirical knowledge for centuries, today we know much more about biological ageing. Nonetheless, expert oenologists and cellar masters alike are continuously surprised by the way one barrel evolves more quickly than the one next to it, or simply ages differently.

Is more study on the subject needed? If the answer is yes, which it nearly always is, perhaps we should wonder if biological ageing lends itself to human intervention.

To answer that question from two very different approaches, we have two oenologists with us. Montse is responsible for a “legion of yeasts” as she has an enormous expanse of square metres of florthat she cares for, just as the many oenologists before her have done.

We have Willy, who came into the field some years ago, starting from scratch but bringing with him a wealth of knowledge and respect (and 87 wine barrels, Willy adds) but with the advantage of starting from scratch and with every right to set sail on this voyage alone.

The importance of time, the importance of the raw material, the importance of the wine barrel itself, these are all very intriguing subjects for our discussion.

Montse, let’s start with you. I’d like you to tell us how someone like yourself, who comes from another region and a winemaking world that is very different from biological ageing, what was your first encounter with biological ageing like?

What were your sensations then, and what are they now, after 20 years?

Montse: My feelings have changed enormously. But first, let me thank you for the invitation, for allowing me to contribute to the discussion. To be honest, when I came here 20 years ago, I knew nothing about Jerez. I only knew I wanted to make wine, however and wherever I could.

A want ad in the newspaper brought me here for what was supposed to be three months but turned into 20 years! Initially, I was overwhelmed by the greatness, the history, the difficulty of making these wines, because they’re not easy to understand, even for an oenologist, and I had little experience at the time. But I think they’ve always been considered different, as being beyond the scope of what oenologists normally talk about—to the extent that when we oenologists get together, they say things like “yourwines, you understand them” when referring to Sherry Wines. When I first joined Barbadillo, it was to head up the R&D department, to devote myself more to white wines, to study other varieties, new projects. But my interest in Sherry was immense, so I gradually learned more from the foremen, the technicians, both at Barbadillo and others nearby, and it truly was a discovery and a stroke of luck.

I thank God because it’s an entirely different world, with so much diversity and variability, it feels limitless. What you said earlier, about why this barrel—yes, and the other one, no. As a Catalonian, I’ve had to learn how to say “I don’t know, and that’s ok, it’s just as good because it’s impossible to control everything. Like when you’re making a white wine, for instance, perhaps things are more controlled because it’s fermenting and you know what the grape brings to the process. You never know 100% what is happening, at least that’s my view, because, after all, it’s a natural process that we help to direct in order to reach the desired result. And with biological ageing, that becomes a sort of miracle. You start with what is essentially a good wine, a wine that has this texture that the palomino grape gives to wine, that plasticity that makes it such a great variety, allowing the soil and the climate to express themselves, that’s already in the base wine and I think that biological ageing multiplies that to an infinite degree.

From the very onset of biological ageing, there’s a transformation that takes place, making it a delicate, flavourful, long and concentrated wine. And I fully agree that biological ageing is one of the greatest contributions Jerez has made to winemaking.

César Saldaña: You mentioned that you think the palomino grape is a great variety. But for a long time, and biological ageing has something to do with this, it seems like the important thing was to bring a grape that wouldn’t be too problematic to age because the important part comes later. What is your view? (turning to Willy Pérez)

Willy Pérez: Many of you already know how I feel. As Montse said, palomino has a lot of plasticity, meaning you can do a lot of different things with it. But I think we need to go back in time, to the palomino grape of the 19th century, before phylloxera, when yields were 1,000-3,000 kg per hectare. Today, as you know, yields are much higher and this makes for a much more diluted expression, leading to what is often referred to as it being a neutral variety, and that biological ageing is needed to give it colour, to create a more complex wine. But if you bring yields down to 5,000, 6,000 or 4,000 kg/hectare, palomino has much more organoleptic potential that it even generate terpenes, which we all know palomino is in short supply of—it’s not a sauvignon blanc or any of those very expressive varieties.

I think we need to rediscover palomino, as Ramiro Ibáñez and Eduardo Ojeda said this morning. The subject of pagos(estates) and different types of terrain, soil, how palomino behaves in the Carrascal estate of Sanlúcar or in Miraflores, as compared to that of Maina or Marcharnudo.  Just as Montse said earlier, the versatility, the plasticity of this grape is that it immediately conveys terroir. But we need to reduce yields for that to be more noticeable.

César Saldaña: You know, we serve wine during these discussions in order to illustrate what we’re talking about. We’re serving one of yours now, Willy, La Barajuela. Can you tell us a little something about this wine?

Willy Pérez: Well, La Barajuelais a wine that’s on the borderline of being a Fino and a white wine. It’s my way of showing how oenology can focus more on the vineyard and leave biological ageing more in the background, so to speak. The important thing for me here is the terroir, Pago del Corregidor, which many of you are familiar with, or the Pago de Carrascal estate, which become a distinctive part of this wine’s character. So, to explain what I mean, I’ll speak in visual terms. If you have a red with this amount of concentration, you’ll have this much oaking (gesturing with his hands to indicate levels to the audience) and that’s how we oenologists understand things. If you have a red Toro, well—more concentration, more new oak. If you are dealing with a Rioja, well less, a more diluted tempranillo.

Our idea is precisely that—if I have a highly concentrated palomino grape, I can have this much biological ageing (indicates levels again with his hands) but if I have a very light palomino with low concentration, I can have this much biological ageing. That’s what La Barajuelais all about—striking a balance between fruit and biological ageing. In fact, to make this wine, apart from being made from different plots and days of harvesting—the entire harvest lasts for two months. At first, what we do is harvest the grapes that are less ripe for brandy, then the second time around, we harvest for white wine, the third harvest of the same vines is when we pick grapes for Fino. The fourth harvest is for Oloroso and the last one is to make a little sweeter wine, on the verge of being a dessert wine.

I try to respect the exact stage a wine is going through. It ferments in wood and, as you know, we don’t add alcohol and always, biological ageing as a balancing act. How do you control that balance? Well, it’s like we said earlier about being able to manipulate biological ageing by raising or lowering the amount in the barrel. Since I don’t have very many, I go one by one, and if I notice too much fruit, which takes away elegance, I lower the level by extracting some of the barrel’s content. That way, there is more surface area at the top to be in contact with the layer of yeast which will do its job and have more impact as the wine ages. Because for me, biological ageing is a technique for refining a wine, it’s not an end-all objective in itself. For instance, if I see that biological ageing is having too much impact on a wine, too much acetaldehyde and it’s eating up all the fruit from my plot, I increase the level in the barrel by adding wine from the same vintage, adjusting the levels by adding or extracting wine from the barrel.

This is obviously one way to complement what is already being done in Jerez. I’m not saying, by any means, that biological ageing should be replaced, or should stop being an objective to reach in Jerez Region wines. Because I love aged Manzanillas, Finos Amontillados, Amontillados—and the older, the better! But it’s also true that we need to start focusing more on the vine, finding balance, and that’s pretty much what La Barajuelais about.

César Saldaña: In these cases, there’s always the need to select your raw material. That is, although you rely on a process with many years of history behind it, each year is different and so there’s a selection process every year, isn’t there?

Montse Molina: Obviously, after all, wine comes from the land, from the grape, so the grape has to be ripe, it has to have the right concentration and harvested at the right moment. We (referring to Willy Pérez) both make red wines and I don’t harvest unless I taste the grape first and know what I’ll get from it. Here, we don’t reach that point, but the grape does have to be ripe enough, with the right amount of acidity to be flavourful, to be capable of withstanding the entire process. Particularly for prolonged ageing such as the ones we have—Solearis biologically aged for 6 years. All that time, you have to add wine with enough structure to be able to withstand the yeast, which is alive and feeding off of the must’s substantial elements, so you need to start with a rich substance.

César Saldaña: We’ve talked about human intervention and this also applies to the buildings, the bodegasthat were constructed over time to house these wines. The more we know, the better we are able to guide these wines to our liking. In your case, Montse, where you have so many options to choose from, do you seek differentiation in that respect?

Montse: I don’t like the word “manipulation” very much (César agrees that it’s not the most appropriate term). Montse continues: When all is said and done, you must guide the wine towards what you want it to be. If not, it turns into vinegar. You have to oversee it constantly, even by deciding when to harvest, you’re already impacting the result. 

I liked very much what Ramiro said today, “that a plot or a terroir also has a personal element to it”. The fact that a persondecides when to harvest is a huge decision, much more important than we think, don’t you agree?

I have the good fortune to have so many barrels to work with, so I can pretty much decide which ones I want. For example, we’re going to taste an unfiltered (en rama) Manzanilla now, which is something we’ve been doing for about 16-17 years now, from a solerayou all know. Well, every season only 10-15 barrels are chosen for bottling en rama Manzanilla. While we can’t see the level in each barrel because that’s impossible, but I still remember how I came with my Catalonian mentality, telling myself, “I’m going to figure this out” and then going around the bodega with the cellar foreman, smelling each barrel, one at a time, seeking volatile, because yeast feeds off alcohol, in some cases there can be a rise in volatile due to acetic bacteria on the surface. So, it’s hard work and you can spend a whole week smelling 500 barrels, just smelling. Then I’d go around again and put samples together into a jar, the ones I thought were good. When I’d finished, after a couple of hours, I had an idea in my head what that wine would taste like because I’d smelled 500 barrels and that’s what stayed in my mind. But when I tasted what was in the jar, it was much better! It was amazing to find that through the wines’ diversity, some dryer, others fruitier, each one contributed something different. So, that doesn’t mean that projects like Willy’s aren’t valid. He focuses on the plot, seeking to bring out the vineyard’s best attributes, so you also get optimum results, but in a different way.

César Saldaña: A wine barrel obviously has its own enertia, doesn’t it? I like something Eduardo Ojeda, an oenologist from Jerez, once said: “This cask is very well contaminated” (laughter). The vessel containing the wine is of vital importance in a programme like yours (looking at Montse) that has so much history behind it. But in a new project like yours (looking at Willy) choosing the right vessel is also key.

Willy Pérez: It is, indeed. Particularly right now, when there aren’t any to be had. Try buying a Sherry Wine barrel today and, besides being astronomically price, it’s quite complicated, not to mention that it has to be in good condition and be appropriate for making Fino, for example. Because there are also barrels for making Amontillado, Oloroso, etc. but they’re hard to find, it’s complicated.

In my project, the barrel is less important—precisely the opposite of what I’d do if I were dealing with prolonged ageing, which is when the soleraand the younger wines, which I feel haven’t been studied enough (he asks Montse if she agrees) what the lees (cabezuelas) from the must contribute, how we can improve upon that, or even how we can lift the lees and how decanting can modify the wine’s profile—I think all that needs to be studied a little more. I, myself, wash my wine barrels before starting to use them, to eliminate anything it has, precisely because I don’t want anything that it contained before to affect the wine I’m making. Needless to say, there’s always going to be something left and I don’t know if that’s good or not, but for my project, it’s about making wine from El Corregidor estate and the grape comes in a certain way and I don’t want the barrel to give me anything more than what I need.

César Saldaña: But you say we’re talking about a highly concentrated wine, which initially brings huge potential for biological ageing.

Willy Pérez: What wine needs is to be tamed. I like what Eduardo Ojeda said this morning about there being two ways of looking at biological ageing: either as an objective in itself or, in other words, I think we need to ask ourselves, as oenologists, that question, particularly the new generation of winemakers: “Is biological ageing the objective or is it a way for me to refine my wine?

The thing with La Barajuela, now that you’ve had the chance to taste it, is that it’s very ample and powerful on the palate and it needs to be tamed. Particularly if you taste the recently-made must, it’s a fruit bomb, a wine that, initially, is an amorphous mass, very un-elegant…and that’s when biological ageing comes into the picture, to help me refine it and make it much more ethereal, with a much sharper nose and balancing it out. In that sense, yes, this wine needs a refining technique, but this wine is right on the borderline of biological ageing. One step further and it would become something else, where the objective is biological ageing constituting sherry, as we referred to just a momento ago. But we use it in a very exacting manner, no more no less, and with wine barrels the very same thing occurs.  I also have an Oloroso version, where you start to notice how the wood plays a more dominant role in the wine. Well, then you start to enter another Sherry territory, complementary and different, but I’m keenly interested in the balancing technique with fruit.

César Saldaña: There’s been a more recent entrance into the world of wine that we should all welcome, and that’s the concept of en rama. There’s still no consensus on what that actually means, but one thing is clear: for everybody it means attempting to bring to the bottle something as close as possible to what is inside the barrel, don’t you think? Do you think it’s a trend, a passing fad, or do you think it’s really the road leading to the future of biological ageing?

Montse:Well, that’s a decision that has to be made for any wine, whether biologically aged or not—to opt for more or less processing. I, for one, think it depends largely upon where your wines are going; that is, you have to fully understand where your market is and know exactly what your market wants from you. I remember when we started with Manzanilla en ramain ‘99,  we were really scared at first so we bottled very little and sent it to specialty shops only—we didn’t sell it to just anyone and even so, we got returns and complaints because they didn’t understand the product. Perhaps it wasn’t the right time and maybe now it is, because now people understand more or are better informed. I think it’s very important for a winery to know very, very well who its consumers are and make wine for them, which is neither better nor worse, it’s the wine they want. Because if you don’t establish rapportwith your consumers, it’s like talking to a wall, there’s no way they’ll understand you.

César Saldaña: Well, now we’re serving one of Montse’s wines. Which extraction is this one from?

Montse: This is the winter 2016 extraction. Now we’re busy with the spring extraction, then we’ll top up for the summer next week and this one we’re serving is from last winter. I brought this one since we were going to talk about the future, since I think with en rama, we were a little bit ahead of our time. The first en rama extraction was in ’99 and what we were really trying to do was show the backstage of Sherry. It was an era when we seemed to have a never-ending supply of Manzanilla—a bit like turning on the tap and it just poured out—always the same, always very good, which is perfect for creating a brand but, at the end of the day, people start taking it for granted and, to some extent, lose respect. It was surprising how when we’d give visitors a tour of the winery and show them what was inside the barrels, they’d be so amazed by what they saw! So we thought, this can’t be, we have to explain what we do because if we don’t, how can we value what we do and be valued by others. That’s why we chose the term “en rama” because we wanted to explain that our wine is alive, that it evolves and changes. In fact, I recently extracted some, and with the warmer weather these days, the wine has changed over the past three weeks, it didn’t have these defects before. So since the yeast’s metabolism varies, it immediately conveys that to the wine and that’s when we came up with the idea of seasonal extractions, so we could explain on the back label what had happened the previous season and why the summer extraction, which is supposed to be the freshest, perhaps wasn’t so fresh because of the warm temperatures over the last three weeks. Well, that’s what we did and that’s why I chose this one, which I feel is a very special wine because what we’ve tried to do is make sure it’s still Manzanilla, a wine that really comes from Solearand would end up being an Amontillado. So the wine is ageing, it’s in a winery where it’s not very comfortable, plus it’s been depleted of nutrients, the yeast is almost exhausted and that’s when the oxidation stage begins and makes the wine get fatter. Nevertheless, I like this one because it still has the tenderness of a Manzanilla, it hasn’t lost its elegance, finesse, the joy of a Manzanilla, yet it has more body to it, it’s much more robust.

César Saldaña: I think this leads us to another topic that is both interesting and vital to the future, namely “how Sherry Wines evolve in the bottle” and particularly those that have been biologically aged.

Willy Pérez: I think it’s something we need to continue to study. It’s clearly “in”—everyone wants to recover those bottles that used to seem past their prime in the gourmet restaurant industry. I consider myself one of those that someone mentioned this morning, I don’t know if it was Pitu Roca, who said: “Those youngsters who are searching for bottles stashed away in the drinks cabinet”. They’re the perfect way to discover the old styles of Jerez Region wines. Together with Antonio Flores, we’ve often had the chance to open up some old bottles of Tìo Pepeat “Er Guerrita” and you starting getting a feel for what a Carta Blancafrom the ‘70s was like, or a Gitanafrom the ‘50s or a bottle of La Guita, also very good, the Pocholosand you start to notice the differences. Or a bottle of La Inafrom 1990, how noticeable the difference is and how, very gradually, these wines start losing flavour and although it may seem paradoxical, but today’s wines seem to age worse in the bottle than these older wines. We often open wines that are 50, 60 years old and they’re perfect, many others have defects because of the cap or whatever, and then there are wines that have only been in the bottle 5 or 6 months and aren’t good and you can’t understand how that happens. We study that, and it seems that the concentration that many of those older wines had, from the ‘40s and ‘50s, from sun-drying prior to the unification stage of winemaking, made them more resilient. Today, we’ve become a bit obsessed, as you said earlier (speaking to César Saldaña) about processing wines or not, in protecting wines from oxidizing so that they’re perfect in the bottle. We’re a little bit scared that the restaurants might return them, and that they always have to taste and look perfect. But perhaps that overtreatment is being counterproductive to bottle ageing and that’s why those wines from the ‘40s and ‘50s which were subject to far less treatment withstand the test of time better due to the structure, that potency that characterises them.

César Saldaña: Now we’re going to open up the floor for questions, but before that, my last thought: there’s always a huge dichotomy between the current market, based on volume, of Finos and Manzanillas, that’s still there and is extremely important to the wineries that were created in the recent past, and all of this happening now. But introducing something new is always hard and slow-going, like trying to turn a transatlantic ship around. 

Montse, I imagine you have to deal with this on a daily basis.

Montse: In the end, our volume is what it is and thank goodness we’re able to make very good wines at a very high standard, like Solear, which is receiving many awards. Now we’ve come out with Manzanilla Pastora, much of the same, but en rama.I believe it’s crucial to adapt to what the market is really asking for, as well as being a little proactive ourselves by coming up with new ideas, but the numbers are always the bottom line.

César Saldaña:And also probably a matter of educating those new consumers, too.

Montse: Right, but that takes time, because I remember how hard it was to explain all this 20 years ago and now, what’s happened? It’s like Eduardo said, keep telling your story and with time, it’ll sink in.

César Saldaña: Well, let’s hope those changes start happening faster!

I’m sure there are questions from the floor for either of our oenologists.

Audience: My question, in principle, is more for Willy. You say your wine undergoes a highly personalised ageing process, and even in the vineyard, it’s a personal project. What do you do to maintain the wine so that it doesn’t vary? You explained how you raise and lower the levels of wine in the barrel. Because you said that it’s on the borderline between being a white and a Fino.

Willy: Well, I’ve had a lot of barrels that have gone straight to Fino (he interrupts to say that what they’ve tasted was a 2014 barrel sample, you’ve seen that it’s en rama). The 2013 vintage went straight to Fino but no big deal, it’s another versión of what La Barajuelawill be, much more within the traditional Jerez technique.

What I do is I start tasting, and when I think that the perfect balance has been reached, that’s when I bottle it. Now, I bottle the 2014 vintage in June. It had a lot of fruit, as Montse just said. Normally, the highest levels of acetaldehyde occur in June, the freshness of the layer of yeast (velo) and I make the most of that moment to compensate for all that fruit with a little more biological ageing and then I bottle that same month. But it has to be done in a very controlled manner, one barrel at a time and of 14 barrels from 2014, I’ve only bottled two. I’ll bottle another 2 barrels when it becomes a real Fino, and then another 2 when it’s completely an Amontillado, many years down the line.

Audience: I get the feeling that in Jerez, we hear the viewpoint of oenologists and people out in the field, but we never really end up hearing about what’s happening with the media, in marketing, which is what reaches us, as final consumers. Thank god we’re seeing more oenologists at trade fairs and events and we’re hearing directly from them what is being done. But what goes out to the public in general is what is distributed by the media and marketing agencies. On the one hand, you have these old labels coming back into fashion, with old-style lithographed lettering, somewhat of a fad or a trend; on the other hand, a lot of exclusivity is being sold and you get the impression that some wineries are “burning their ships” by using mega-campaigns of 3 small 37cc bottles for €1,500, for example. We’re seeing this happen so there doesn’t seem to be a lot of coherence between what the wineries (bodegas) are doing and what the Regulatory Council is doing with regards to marketing. There seem to be two different playing fields, but perhaps you can tell me what your view on the subject is.

César Saldaña: An industry is always complex because it’s the sum total of the will of each of the winemakers (bodegueros). I think that one of the strengths of Jerez right now is precisely that diversity, that variety, much like the wines themselves. We’re also very concerned about what you describe as them “burning their ships” but it’s not exactly that—it’s also a marketing operation, in some sense. What is true though, for the first time, well perhaps not the first time, but over the last 10 years, our oenologists from Jerez are stepping up to the podium. That’s something normal in the world of wine, at least in other regions it’s nothing new. But here, there were a lot of watertight compartments, like talking about the vineyards, which is more common now than in the past, and now oenologists and technical directors talk a lot more to their consumers, to the end client. 

I don’t think this would happen unless the marketing people were totally in agreement with this, at least in the large companies. I think marketing professionals have realised that having someone like Montse is a luxury. I’m talking about the big wineries. And that you have to speak a language that your audience understands. So, to address that audience, these are the people who can do that.

 Audience (in English): My question is for Luis Pérez. In western markets, La Barajuelais seen as a door opening up to attract new clients. If I offered this kind of wine at my restaurant, would it sell?

Willy Pérez: You’re absolutely right, that’s what La Barajuela is all about. You know that wines with prolonged ageing, long biological ageing, those long-aged Amontillados, were the house speciality, they were wines that were kept in small quantities, we talked about that with Ramiro Ibáñez. They were the top of the pyramid of Jerez Region wine sales and very expensive, at that. So, what we’re offering now, not only with La Barajuelaas a relatively fruity Fino which expresses the vineyard, but a whole legion of whites like Niepoort from Navazos and many other friends making white wines in vineyards with biological or oxidative ageing, and are opening up to a different target group. These are very food-friendly wines, just like Fino, Amontillado and Oloroso wine and we’re discovering new ways of pairing them every day, and the general public is too, but there has to be that first step taken, that first contact with these wines. Then step up to Solearseasonal extraction which, for me, is the culmination of what a wine can become through biological ageing. But yes, I think that we have opened up a passageway, a new beginning to attract new consumers.

Público:Is the first wine we tasted certified by the Regulatory Council? When you talk about levelling it, do you mean by sacrificing barrels?

Willy Pérez: The answer to both questions is yes. This particular wine is not certified because it hasn’t been extracted yet, but the vintage before it, 2013, has. And with regards to levelling, Oloroso is extremely difficult to achieve, technically speaking, because you have to get to 17º through natural fermentation, and as you know, at 16.5º the yeast is already losing vitality, it’s dying off…I’ve done 80 and after so many attempts, I’ve only managed to get 5, sorry, 6 barrels of it. In my case, the decision is made not when the wine is made but just before that, right after fermenting.

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Vinos de Jerez
Noticias, artículos y eventos del Consejo Regulador de los vinos de Jerez
Vinos de Jerez @vinosjerez
09 April 2019
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