Something for old ladies and English Lords, that’s what most people think of when you say the word “Sherry”. For me sherry was something unknown. I mean I did know what it was but that’s where it stopped. A couple of weeks ago I was doing a tour of Andalusia and stopped for a few days in Jerez de la Frontera and as the name might tip-off this is the place where the Sherry comes from… so not visiting a sherry bodega would have been a crime… luckily my friends William Wouters and Peter Bollinger could help me with which one to visit as they know much more about this than me 🙂 . So with a little help from my friends my fiancee and I were able to visit Spain’s n°1 sherry Bodega Gonzales-Byass also known as Tio Pepe.
Since my visit to the Bodega I’m VERY excited about sherry, so I’ll try to temper my enthusiasm and keep it as “short” as possible ;-)…
The whole Gonzales-Byass Sherry making story started around 1835 by Manuel María González Angel, who was later joined by his English agent Robert Blake Byass I think this makes it clear where the name of the Bodega Gonzales Byass comes from… the part of the company Robert Blake owned got bought back by the González family, they decided to keep the name. The name Tío Pepe actually comes from Manuel González beloved uncle. Today the whole bodega is still owned by the family (unlike lots of others).
Walking through this enormous bodega (I have never seen something this big) is like walking through history as every corner and even every barrel has a story behind it. One of the stories Lola told us (our guide) that is quit special was that for the visit of the Spanish Queen Isabella II the firm had a special barrel build “La Concha” commissioned by nobody less than engineer Gustav Eiffel (Yes, that Gustav Eiffel), next to this barrel you will find 11 others that represent the apostles… no this isn’t a typo, 11 as they put the one from the bad apostle (Judas) with the sherry vinegar barrels as they were afraid his barrel would bring bad luck for the others. I could tell you more stories, but I promised to keep it short(er) and I would just advice to visit the bodega and be as amazed as me.
One of the most impressing views you see during your tour in this Bodega is without any doubt when you enter this “monument” which is a very big round depot filled with 250 barrels that represent every country they export to (every barrel has a different flag on it). BTW did you know they also make the wine for during mass in Church? 🙂 They do, I really didn’t know this.
I must say that the oldest barrels or cellar or even the barrels with signatures from famous people are also impressive 🙂 (I’m sure you will be as well)
Or the 1st “office” from Tio Pepe’s founder Manuel Gonzales. On this picture you see all different bottles, this way Mr Gonzales knew which blend/ mix was in which bottle. As there was not a lot of light inside of the room, Mr Gonzales had something that looked like a bird cage with a candle in it. He would hold his glass against this candle to be able to see the color of the wine…
Now I think the time has come to talk about Sherry… First things first, something important to know is that sherry is a wine and it is not only something that can be drunk before or after dinner, but something also very suitable for during your meal. Sherry only gets made using 2 kinds of grapes (the 3rd one would be moscatel, but this is rather rare) Palomino and the Pedro Ximénez (which is the sweetener in the Sherry making process). Depending on the mixing of these grapes (of course in combination with a few other steps during the production process) make the wine either sweeter or dryer. A special process they use to make sherry is called the “Solera” system. What basically happens is that the barrels are piled up with all the top barrels filled with the youngest sherry and the oldest at the bottom. Every x months they will bottle sherry, but only using the bottom (oldest) sherry and only 1/3 of what is in the barrel. After this they will fill this barrel again with the sherry from the barrel on top of this and that barrel on its turn will be filled with the sherry from on barrel on top of it… and this continues until they get to the youngest and that one gets filled with newly made wine. (Check this link for more details about the process). So basically when you buy a bottle of sherry that has an age 30 years on the bottle in reality is a blend from much older sherry sometimes up to a few hundred years. It is it is not as simple as how I describe it, but that is in big lines what it does. What is amazing is that every step of this system will give a different type of sherry (BTW the Solera wine is also one of my preferred ones). Something very cool to see was the inside of a barrel while the wine was in there, as the Bodega used glass as closure instead of wood and you could clearly see the yeast which works as a kind of wall to keep the air separated from the wine. FYI this white layer is called “Flor” 🙂
A difference with the vines from “regular” wines (that rimes) and the ones to make sherry is that these vines are put deeper in the soil as the weather in the South of Spain can get very hot and the top layers would be totally dried out and the lower layer of the soil would still contain water. Talking about the vines, a question that came to mine when I was driving through Andalusia was that I did see a lot of olive trees, but not too much vines… so one of my first questions during my visit was where they have their grapes 🙂 and it seems they are more north around Sanlucár (and I can confirm it as I drove by them 🙂 ). Also something interesting to know is that because the vines are so low, every x time they flip the branches (and grapes) over a wire… this way the grapes won’t touch the ground.
Now that you know a bit of the basics we can continue with something that I’m sure most of you didn’t know, so stay tuned for next week’s post as I was amazed 🙂