This was achieved by the trade as a whole, but two of the great architects of the Sherry metamorphosis, Antonio Flores (González Byass) and Manuel José Valcárcel (Fundador), recognised respectively this year as the Best Fortified Winemaker in the World and the Winemaker of the Best Wine in the World, wanted through the pages of the Diario de Jerez to wish all Jerezanos a Happy New Year and review the most notable events in the year which changed Sherry.
Fundador and González Byass, two of the great bodegas of Jerez, are back on top, leading a sector filled with renewed hope and infectious dynamism. These winemakers are sure that this past year could mark the turning point, and now that favorable winds are blowing the important thing is to aim for growth and greater value for Sherry – without letting quality slip.
Valcárcel and Flores personify a great many of the successes achieved by Sherry in 2016, and they both highlight the recuperation of the old Domecq bodegas as one of the key factors in the change of rhythm in the sector, driven by the good relations between the house of Tio Pepe and that of Bristol Cream. Their respective proprietors, the González family and Andrew Tan announced only a few weeks ago the joint purchase from Pernod Ricard of the Domecq brand and its business in Mexico, the best gift the Sherry region could receive, the icing on the cake for such a successful year.
For Antonio Flores,
the most important thing now is that we believe that the Sherry Revolution is a reality, but we must advance carefully to avoid going backwards.
It has been an “incredible year” for González Byass, considered in 2016 to be the best Spanish bodega and the fifth best in the world, winner of the Best Fortified Wine in the World for Fino Tres Palmas in Decanter Magazine, winner also of the Best Fortified Wine (Cuatro Palmas), the Best Fino (Dos Palmas) and the best Palo Cortado (Añada 1987) at the International Wine Challenge (IWC). Thanks to all these prizes, Antonio Flores was chosen as the Best Winemaker in Spain and in the World 2016.
Fundador is out there winning prizes as well. Harveys Amontillado VORS won the IWC prize for the Best Wine in the World, the “Champion of Champions” the first time the award went to a Sherry, or even to a Spanish wine. The list of prizes doesn’t stop there however; Harveys Palo Cortado VORS was one of the five finalists for the Best Wine in the World and Harveys PX VORS was the best PX in the same competition.
As Flores says, “the important thing is that Sherry is at the very top,” something with which his opposite number at Fundador, Manuel José Valcárcel, agrees entirely: “after many years of restructuring of the trade, we still have great brands and great quality.”
In barely a year since the change of ownership Fundador is breathing excitement and enthusiasm on all sides, and the prizes won provide incontrovertible proof that things have changed for the better at the old Domecq bodegas after many years of decline. “The change of owner was fundamental. Before, we were in the hands of a multinational, Beam, for whom Sherry was not a priority, but now we are traveling first class and the prizes keep on coming”.
At neighboring González Byass, the plans are to stay out in front and continue to back Sherry. “It is Sherry which leads this ever expanding great family of wines – the firm has recently purchased a bodega in Rías Baixas and another in Chile, which are now incorporated with their other wines in Rioja, Penedés, Somontano and Rueda – it is the great motor of González Byass, and they continue to back it, despite not being their most profitable wine, because it is in their soul.
The bodegas of Jerez are transmitting the good vibrations out to consumers, who Flores believes “have changed their perception of Sherry and are discovering a great wine which is also being supported by the leading Spanish chefs who are laying the guidelines in the world of cuisine and to whom it is a different wine which offers multiple sensations. The Jerezanos themselves are also realising that Sherry is one of the great wines of the world”, so we need to
put humility to one side and increase the prices to add value. You can’t sell a wine aged for five years for less than 9 euros.
The World’s Best Winemaker and the winemaker of the World’s Best Wine agree that they would change nothing that happened in the last year. Antonio Flores would repeat it in a heartbeat. “It was an almost perfect year – and I say “almost” because there is always room for improvement,” he says, and Manuel José Valcárcel agrees adding “I would say it has been the year of the return of Fundador which, after almost twenty years of obscurity is now back on top, participating in the city, opening the doors of the bodegas…”
To stay on the right track, Flores advocates focusing efforts on three lines of action which he considers fundamental: education in Sherry, “a slow process of support for the consumer”; the development of wine tourism, something which González Byass will improve with the opening of its Sherry Hotel in the bodegas in 2018; and to keep up with trends in the world of cuisine, because “Sherry already sits at the table.”
Valcárcel has high hopes for the bodega’s new distributor in Spain and in the synergies offered by its links to Grupo Emperador in export markets. The Harveys range is the new force for the bodega after the loss of brands such as the Fino La Ina range, the VOS and VORS, 51.1a, Capuchino etc under previous ownership. The Fundador winemaker says the workforce is excited at the many projects which lie ahead for Sherry and Brandy.
Excitement and optimism is the message Flores and Valcárcel and their respective bodegas González Byass and Fundador are sending to Jerezanos for New Year, but Flores points out that complacency is not an option and “here we have two bodegas which we have run, are running and will continue to run well, and we must forget narcissism as the success of one is a success for us all. No more contemplating navels, something which belittles Sherry, we must look for quality and not for easy money.”
“The difficulty is not so much getting there, but staying there; we need to improve on a daily basis, what was there before has gone and we need to build the future” declares the Bristol Cream winemaker.
This is an extract from an article originally published in Spanish in Diario de Jerez.
02 January 2017