Meet Alonso Ruiz Olivares and Rocío Ruiz Lopez. Hailing from Moguer in Huelva province, they launched Bodegas Urium in Jerez in 2009, after acquiring the bodega and its contents from an almacenista in 2007.Photo Credit: Ralf Bender.
The bodega is on Calle Muro, at the highest point in Jerez – ideally placed to benefit from the confluence of winds that create the microclimate for ageing sherry. The bodega is in three distinct parts, built at different times in history. Alonso hasn’t been able to find the original documents about the building to confirm exact dates, but the oldest two parts date back to before the end of the 18th century. The first part has the lowest ceiling and a pent roof, with Moorish skylights (‘tragaluces moriscos’). The second has only a slightly higher ceiling, with an adjacent patio. The low roof helps date these two parts of the bodega: before biological ageing with flor was introduced to sherrymaking, there was no need for ventilation to help the flor survive. Therefore these two parts date back to when only traditional oxidative ageing took place. Across the patio you find the third phase of the bodega, the ‘modern bodega’. This was built with high ceilings for aging Fino, some time towards the end of the 19th century.
Inheriting a treasure trove
When they bought the bodega, Alonso and Rocío inherited a treasure trove of very old wines. When they first launched the Urium brand, they sold exclusively VORS (over 30 years average age) sherries, all of which exceeded the minimum average age by a considerable margin. Their PX is over 50 years average age and their other VORS wines are over 40 years average age.
They also started a Fino solera and a Manzanilla Pasada solera (housed in another bodega in Sanlucar de Barrameda). No commercial cultures are used for the flor, they use what occurs naturally in the bodega and barrels. The only cultivation comes from transferring between barrels. They later released their Clásicos range with an average of 12-15 years age, which is fed from the younger criaderas of the VORS soleras. In addition every year they release a very limited amount of El Gran Senor de Urium – a Palo Cortado with average age of more than 100 years.
Holding on to a dream
So how did these two get involved in making sherry? We need to go back a further generation to understand Alonso’s drive to become a bodeguero. His father was a farmworker who made the trip every year from Moguer to Jerez, walking across the Coto Donaña, to help with the wheat harvest. He fell in love with the vineyards, the wines and the albariza soil. Who wouldn’t?!
After being injured in the war, Alonso’s father could no longer work the land. So he bought a large barrel of Vino de Moguer (Condado de Huelva) and a little bodega similar to a tabanco, and sold wine for a living. Alonso got a bike as a gift from his dad, so he could help deliver the wine. He decked out his bike as colourfully as possible with streamers, ribbons and decorations. Everyone knew it was Alonso’s delivery bike – until, that is, the day he parked it outside and a goat ate all the decorations!
Alonso followed in his dad’s footsteps, with a successful career in hospitality and wine in Huelva, but throughout this time he held on to a dream for him and his dad – to own a sherry bodega. He looked for 40 years – yes, 40 years! – for somewhere to make the dream a reality. In 2007 he found it.
Catching the bug
Rocío is as passionate about sherry as her father, and her grandfather before him. She didn’t begin her career in wine though. She graduated in Economics, followed by an MBA, and worked in corporate Madrid for many years. But when Alonso found the bodega, she threw herself wholeheartedly into the venture too, returning home to study for a Masters in Viticulture and Enology in a Hot Climate. As she tells it:
My dad infected me with the sherry virus!
Much like Alonso’s father did to him.
This family might be relatively new to sherrymaking but, like so many of others in the sherry industry, they can already point to three generations of love for sherry wines. And that’s an infection that’s very hard to shake off.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent those of El Consejo Regulador.
04 February 2016