Manuel José Valcarcel Muñoz
How long have you been working in Sherry and for how long have you been working at this Bodega?
I started work in 1984 at Bodegas Pedro Domecq SL and am still working at the same place although the name of the company has changed a number of times because of mergers and acquisitions. Currently, and since March 2016 we are Bodegas Fundador SLU.
My role during the last almost 34 years has always been involved with the creation, control, research and development of our Sherry wines. I began as a microbiologist, and then went on to become laboratory chief, oenological innovation chief, and since 2006 I have been chief oenologist for the wine production of our Harveys brand.
What made you want to become a Sherry winemaker?
I have had links with Sherry since I was born. My father was in charge of administration at a company which owned vineyards and supplied grapes to Pedro Domecq SA. He always saw the Domecq wines as good aperitifs and they were also always on our table; something we are trying to instil into people now – bringing Sherry to the table – and for me it was an important thing that my parents always used to do.
As soon as I was old enough to try the wines I did, and every time they excited me more.
When it came to deciding what to study, I thought I would like to work in a Sherry bodega, so I studied for a degree in Chemical Science, and on finishing, I did a research scholarship in industrial fermentations and oenology. My doctoral thesis was also related to oenological matters, on the subject of the distillation of wine.
When asked if I would be interested in working for Domecq I had no doubt, and after a lengthy selection process, my dream of working in a bodega in Jerez came true and as chance would have it, it was the same bodega whose wines I always used to see at home.
Over the years, because of all the company mergers and acquisitions, I have been lucky enough to get to know the wines and production processes of other bodegas in Jerez. I am ever more convinced that Sherry is a truly exceptional wine which well deserves the continual recognition it receives in the important tasting competitions round the world.
What wine are you proudest of and why?
Without any doubt our Harveys Amontillado VORS. This wine is the maximum expression of a Sherry: at 5 years old it was a magnificent Fino – Harveys Fino; at 12 – 15 years old it was a textbook Amontillado – Harveys Amontillado; and it reaches its full splendour at over 30 years of age.
I am particularly proud of having managed to move the soleras of such a delicate wine from one bodega to another while maintaining its quality - which is world renowned - as well as continually refining the blend and the selection of wines used to refresh the soleras.
What is your favourite Sherry and why?
Well, on the one hand, Harveys Fino, and on the other, Harveys Amontillado. Like I said earlier, Harveys Fino is Harveys Amontillado, just younger, at 5 years old.
To me, Harveys Amontillado is something special; it is a wine I created from the Harveys soleras.
I believe that to the Jerezanos Amontillado is a very special wine. It contains within it the greatest contributions of Jerez to world oenology: the biological ageing under a veil of flor yeast and the linked systems of criaderas and soleras.
What is your favorite Sherry wine pairing?
I love how the flavours of Harveys Fino intermingle with those of Langoustines from Sanlúcar or a well cured ham, with its fat.
Sherry is so unique to other wines -- what Sherry fact do you find most interesting?
I have always considered that the biological ageing under the veil of flor as Jerez’ great contribution to the world of wine. This unique process which affects Finos, Amontillados and Palos Cortados, and even Olorosos during a short space of time marks them out as different from the rest.
Our local yeasts: the fermentative ones and those of the veil of flor, are in my view a very important part of the production of Sherry. These yeasts first convert the grape juice into an excellent young wine which, because of our unique way of doing things, we call “mosto”, and then after fortification and ageing in our criadera and solera systems convert it into an exceptional Sherry.
What plans for innovation and development do you have and where do you see the future for Sherry?
The way forward for Sherry is undoubtedly quality, there is no other way.
This quality needs to be reflected in the packaging and needs it to show on it some of the history of the brand as this would help to position it in the market and make it the choice of many consumers.
The great challenge we all face is being able to communicate Sherry to consumers of between 25 and 40 years old, to give them opportunities to try it and take an interest so they can truly discover it. If we can inspire a certain loyalty there is no doubt that there will be a real resurgence of our wine.
Sherry is very well known as the perfect partner for many types of dish from the cuisines of many countries. There is always a Sherry to match any dish, however difficult. It is an advantage we must make the most of among those who appreciate Sherry, and we must show them other ways to enjoy it, and the dining table is one of those.
Moreover, in many countries the trend of after work drinks is growing and Sherry should be in there since its prowess as a cocktail ingredient gives people a new way to get to discover it.
So as you can see I believe that right now the new challenges should be to maintain quality of our wines and their packaging and also to develop new communication strategies to attract the consumer to our products.
What are your earliest memories of Sherry wines?
As I said earlier, Sherry was in my house since I was born, but I remember especially in my first year at university a tasting which I attended at a bodega in Jerez, sadly now disappeared. The oenologist showed us round the bodega and then put on a tasting for us, slowly explaining every last detail of the 4 wines we tasted. At that moment I understood the difference between tasting and drinking and I discovered that every wine has a history behind it and knowing what that is, you really see the value of the wine. When I give a tasting I try to pass on many of the things I have experienced during my life, in winemaking and even the creation of the wine I am showing.