Sherry Wine News

Sherry in my Veins - behind the scenes with Antonio Flores

You’ve probably come across Antonio Flores, Master Blender at Gonzalez Byass. With a reputation as the sherry poet and an increasingly high public profile, he’s become very much the front man for Tio Pepe and Gonzalez Byass sherries. But away from that public persona, what does a Master Blender do all day, and how did he get here? Let’s go behind the scenes, somewhere that’s far more than a workplace to him.

Home, playground, office

Like most of the bodegas in the Sherry Triangle, Gonzalez Byass traditionally employed generations of the same family and Antonio Flores is no exception.  His father began work in the bodega aged 14 and worked his way up to become Director of Production. With this role came a home within the bodega complex; a flat next to none other than the Rebollo bodega – the very first bodega on the site and the birthplace of Tio Pepe.

Here, within sniffing distance of the wine of which he is now custodian, Antonio was born and raised.  If you do the bodega tour today, it’s hard to imagine running into kids playing football or hide and seek, but when Antonio was a child the bodega was a playground for him and other bodegueros’ children.  These days you’re lucky if you see a mouse sneaking a slurp of PX!

Following in Dad’s footsteps, Antonio joined Gonzalez Byass in 1980 after completing his degree in Enology at Universitat Rovira i Virgili in Tarragona and his military service.  He began working in the labs and sample room and has been with the company ever since.

Playing in the bodega A young Antonio playing in the bodega (reproduced with permission) 1 of 5
Antonio and his brother Getting acquainted with sherry from an early age (reproduced with permission) 2 of 5
A day at the office Working in the Rebollo bodega 3 of 5
With his latest creation Enjoying a glass of Tio Pepe En Rama 2015 just three weeks after its release 4 of 5
5 of 5

A day in the life

Is there such a thing as an average day for a Master Blender in such a huge bodega?  When we met he was just back from promoting Tio Pepe En Rama around the UK, was about to embark on Jerez’s Feria week – a marathon of client entertainment and partying, and was then heading off to Barcelona for their Sherry Festival.  There didn’t sound like much time for blending in that hectic agenda.

There’s a lot of travel and marketing these days.  In the past, the enologo could hide in the bodega. But bit by bit we now spend more time in marketing.  People want to hear about the wines from the people who make it.

But when he’s not travelling, which is a decent proportion of the year, his day in the bodega has a more predictable rhythm.  He makes a 7am start in the bodega with his team, checking the bottling line for faults, doing quality assurance checks. Then sampling from barrels and directing the process of sacar and rociar – extracting sherry from the solera for bottling and refreshing from the younger criaderas.  The Fino takes the most looking after, as it needs constant monitoring and care to ensure the flor can thrive.  Tio Pepe is blended from 21 distinct soleras comprising a total 22,000 barrels, so looking after that is a huge job all by itself, let alone looking after all the other sherries in the bodega.  Despite that, there’s usually time for some admin and planning in the day too, sorting out travel, thinking about and planning new products and launches.

Viva la #SherryRevolution

He may not be able to hide in the bodega any more, but when I ask Antonio what he enjoys most about his job these days, it’s clear that being a public face for sherry offers him a chance to do something he loves: helping in the effort to recover sherry’s image and market.

I want to help it recover for the young people, they’re the future and I don’t want them to inherit an industry with difficulties.  I love introducing sherry to new people, and I love it when they start to enjoy and understand my wines, especially the complicated ones like Amontillado and Oloroso

I can’t quite remember if it was Antonio who coined the hashtag #SherryRevolution in the first place, but he’s definitely out there on the front line. And he’s well qualified for the job.  As we’re finishing the interview and chatting over a glass his recently bottled Tio Pepe En Rama 2015, he points to the veins in his arm and laughs,

it’s not blood in here, he says, it’s Tio Pepe!

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The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent those of El Consejo Regulador.
Helen Highley
I am a certified Sherry Educator and the editor of Criadera, a blog that tells the stories of the wines, places and people of the Sherry Triangle. I am particularly passionate about getting behind the scenes (or behind the bota!) of Sherry making and showcasing the people and places that make Sherry so special.
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Helen Highley @criadera
02 December 2015
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