The Urium Meeting Place

Some of the most supportive people I’ve encountered in my sherry journey have been through social media connections. These days, it’s so easy to feel connected in friendship across the miles without ever having met in person. Imagine my excitement when I realized I would be in Jerez for harvest at the same time as these fellow sherry lovers! The one bodega we all share a common love for is Bodegas Urium. How fitting that this became our meeting place! Despite the jet lag and the summer heat, we all greeted each other with open arms and cheek-kisses as if this was not our first official meeting. Allow me to introduce you to my friends.

urium-familyThe Urium Meeting Place – Rocío, her husband Mario, and her charming father Alonso take hospitality to the next level! I joke that Rocio and I are like two teenage schoolgirls since we met in 2015. We text each other, giggling about life, and also share our hardships when we need support. She takes her family’s business very seriously and amazes me with how much she manages! She does it all – back office invoicing and orders, hospitality to guests visiting the winery, PR management, etc. She is the most capable woman I’ve ever met!

Heaven help me if I can understand anything Mario says, but he is so jovial! I think he laughs at the end of every sentence that comes out of his mouth. He may seem quiet in a crowd, but one-on-one, he is very passionate about his life in Cuba. In Urium, he jumps right into the family business of running the soleras and doesn’t hesitate to make sure you’re comfortable in their home. I truly believe he is the best selfie-taker!

Who doesn’t love Alonso? He looks like Santa, is so passionate about his wines, and makes a mean stew! I love listening to his childhood stories. He tells many jokes that get lost in translation, offers sound advice and encouragement, and will even sing a few lines of a Sevillanas. Just beware; he will charm you into singing or dancing for him as well!

urium-fun4Criadera – I have followed Helen Highley on Twitter since I first started my sherry journey. She and her husband Stuart live near Edinburgh, Scotland. I’ve learned so much about sherry reading her blog. She’s the one who put me in touch with smaller, boutique sherry houses like Urium and Faustino González. Upon finally meeting her in Jerez, her enthusiasm is infectious. It’s no wonder she’s made such amazing partners for her own Sherry Boutique.

urium-funMontilla-Moriles UK – Erik and Laura Burgess are another dear couple from Scotland, in Blantyre east of Glasgow. Well, everyone will learn quickly that Erik is originally from New Zealand. They bring a stuffed animal Kev the Kiwi on their travels for some fun photo moments. Erik is my #1 fan on Twitter! I can always rely on him to like and retweet my posts! One will also learn a lot about whisky from these two, as they compare and contrast their passion for both scotch and sherry. They uniquely focus their passion for sherry in the Montilla-Moriles region where most PX grapes are grown. Although sherry styles from this region aren’t aged within the sherry triangle, I’ve learned from Erik and Laura not to disregard these wines entirely. What I discovered, upon meeting in person, are their giving hearts! They are the most generous people! I’m really hoping our paths cross again on their home turf!

Shawn Hennessey – Don’t be fooled by other guided tapas tours reciting a script – Shawn is the real deal! She is the eyes and ears of Sevilla, Malaga and beyond! Originally from Canada, she has lived several years in Sevilla. Her tours include hole-in-the-wall places where she has built friendships with owners and waiters. Her love for sherry is top-notch. She is such a role model for me. Plus, we share a mutual adoration for cats. When she knew I was coming to take the Certified Sherry Educator’s course at the Consejo Regulador, she came to visit Jerez to lend me her notes! She may be camera shy, but she is anything but when it comes to one on one conversation! If anything, she’s been the one to push me out of my own shell.

alexSherry Company – Alexander Dopson has been my kindred spirit throughout my journey. I was excited to finally meet up in Jerez. He and his wife just made the move back to Sevilla from Miami. Although his father is American, his mother is from Jerez. It’s a mind trip to hangout with him and see how he flips from being a total Floridian to Jerezano in one conversation. He’s so fluent; I relied on him to be my interpreter for the little details my language ability couldn’t catch. He is passionate and eloquent when he speaks or writes about sherry, not just about the wines, but the region, the history, and the culture. He’s been a mentor to keep dreaming big and to never give up on my goals for Sherry Sips. When we met at Urium, he brought along his best friend Sergio, who quickly felt like my long lost cousin. Sergio and his new bride Maria became dear friends throughout my stay in September. I hope when we all meet again, they’ll take me to Grazalema where they grew up together.

We had the pleasure of an unexpected addition to the visit from Carl-Gustav Aullo. He’s a Spanish-Swede writing a book on sherry in Swedish! I loved listening to his fluent Spanish with little Swedish interjections. Having just been to Stockholm connecting to my Swedish roots, it was a joy to get to know him and share stories. After several glasses of sherry, we even pulled him in as we serenaded Dancing Queen to Alonso before leaving the bodega and heading onto other sherry adventures.

If you’re passionate about sherry, there are amazing friends who await you with open arms. If you want to meet in person, you know where we’ll be. What happens at Urium stays at Urium.

La Vendimia with Covijerez

covi-vedimia

salva-martaI have learned over the years that the best experiences often happen when they aren’t planned. When I first planned my Sherry Odyssey in 2015, I never expected I would have met one of the key players in the sherry industry. At that time, I only knew Salvador Espinosa as the president of Covijerez and the man who let me sign my first sherry barrel.

These days, he’s wearing several hats at not only the cooperative, but in his vineyards, at Bodegas Diez Mérito, in his role at the Consejo Regulador, and most recently as one of the Magi on Three Kings Day. (For those of us in the US, it’s like Santa Claus only on a much grander, festive scale!) What’s humbling for me is that he always has time to be my friend. Salvador has offered me opportunities in my sherry exploration and education that I wouldn’t have created or planned otherwise! Let me share one of them with you from my most recent trip in September.

covijerez1I wanted to go back to Covijerez to see it in full swing during harvest! This is where the majority of grapes are trucked in and processed for press and often for the first stages of fermentation. This is the perfect resource of modern technology to help when harvest has to happen quickly to maintain standards set by the Consejo Regulador. Most wineries transfer their bulk grapes in dumper trucks, which are weighed before pressing to monitor the yield requirements set by the Consejo for quality control purposes.

sheldonI met Salvador in the morning and the temperatures were already rising quickly into the upper 90’s (I think that day it got to 104F (40C). We piled into his brother’s car with Sheldon, the happiest dog in Jerez, and headed to Caribe Vineyard. Salvador’s family has been working to restore Bodegas Diez Mérito to its prestige. This vineyard is one of the oldest and provides the must for the Bertola sherry series. The older the vineyard the better the grapes!

After a quick morning coffee and toast and chat with locals, we met up with those already hard at work hand-cutting baskets full of Palomino grapes. Though I appreciated my quick lesson, even with my best effort I was too slow, my hip protested immediately with all the squats and I couldn’t lift more than a half-full basket. I have so much appreciation for the human-power that goes into harvesting the Sherry Triangle!

Back at Covijerez, it was the same guided-tour as the year before, only with the machinery and workers in full swing! Non-stop truckloads were dumping tons of fruit and juice moving them all along. The byproduct of skins, seeds and stems looked almost like ginormous cow pies. The noise of it all made it difficult to really understand the details of what was happening. I was thankful for Salvador’s use of English.

Inside the lab, he offered me the refractometer to see how they make sure the sugar levels stay within range. Here, they measure by BaumĂ©, which will indicate the alcoholic strength that will be reached after fortification. 10.5 % is the goal for the best sugar potential for alcohol. They also analyze the health of the grapes for proper fermentation – 0.8 or higher isn’t healthy for fermentation.

Across the way, we walked to check on the fermentation tanks. Not very many bodegas ferment in barrels anymore. Tank systems help maintain consistency. Covijerez has two types of tank systems here. The older is La Ducha – a shower system where cold water cools the outside of the tank. The newer tanks are Camisas, a cold water insulation system. It’s amazing the heat that fermentation can generate! The circulating cold water helps control the fermentation in a consistent, non-aggressive way. I’m glad I didn’t have a fear of heights as we climbed a good 15 meters up to monitor the tanks. The smells were strong and I was firmly reminded not to breathe in when looking into the bubbling liquid.

fermentationThe fermentation takes 14 days and is complete once the bubbles have stopped and all the sugar has been consumed. Everything settles throughout the fall and the base liquid must, or mosto, is sold right around the end of November. Creating the best mosto is crutial for the initial aging and maturing process of sherry, either biologically as a Fino or traditionally as Oloroso. Julien Jeffs said it best, “The must is the life blood of the bodegas; it is continually examined and checked, as everything depends on it.”

Despite being pulled in many directions, Salvador Espinosa is kind, generous and down to earth. He has taught me so much about the importance of making mosto. If you fall in love with sherry as I have, and visit Jerez, I really hope you and he cross paths!

sherrysips

Welcome Home

planeThe best part of traveling to Jerez is that I can always pick up right where I left off. Compared to my ever growing, ever changing city of Portland, Oregon, Jerez relatively remains the same from year to year. I can slide back into life right along the daily routines. My landlords Manolo and Carmen will have an apartment waiting for me. My friends at Bar El Porrón will have toast and coffee ready in the morning. I can text Rubén should I need a taxi. Best of all, Rocío is my lifeline when I just need a bff!

There’s nothing better than walking off my plane battling jet lag to be greeted with a huge hug from Rocío! She was so generous to pick me up this time and whisk me off to Urium to see her father and husband. Reunited as if no time had passed, glass of fino in hand, I was home.

family2

My first evening in town, she took me to Tabanco El Pasaje for the photo exhibition of Paco Barroso. Paco has an amazing eye and talent. I have admired several of his photos focused on local flamenco dancers. This evening, the first to grab my attention set the tone for my reason for coming – harvest. Sherry starts with the hands that work so hard to hand-cut the grapes for long hours in unforgiving heat. If I could, I would hang this photo in my home as a reminder each time I enjoyed a glass, to pause and silently thank them for their efforts.

This evening also highlighted moments frozen in time in some of my favorite bodegas: El Maestro Sierra mother Doña Pilar and daughter Maria del Carmen smelling copas of wine, Urium father Alonso and daughter Rocío holding a copita, and best of all the silhouette of recently passed enologist Manuel Lozano from Lustau. This was rightfully placed in the center and caught my breath a little with the title, “Seguimos caminando…” or “Let’s keep on walking…” Paco explained this was a phrase Lozano would repeatedly say during their visit. But what a reminder this evening for those who grieve his loss.

crowd1

The entire evening I was squeezed into a tiny space full of loud conversation and kissing hellos to key locals in the sherry and tourism industry. Despite my jet lag, this was the perfect way to dive right back in and feel completely welcomed home.

paco-group

Me, RocĂ­o, Mario, Paco + Fran

Lustau Pt 2 – The Bodega

Lustau streetview

I began my day with Lustau at 10 AM. When we returned from our adventures in Sanlúcar around 1:30 PM, I was kicking myself for not bringing any snacks. Juan went up to his office and came back looking very professional in his tie and sports coat. In a matter of minutes, the mood changed from relaxed and familiar to structured and official.

Juan is amazing at regurgitating historical dates and facts about Lustau. Here, Fino is aged for five years, Oloroso for eight years and Amontillado for twelve. During the summer, the floors are wet down twice a week to maintain the humidity to sustain the yeast’s growth on top of the Fino. In 2008, they acquired 2500 barrels of the famous La Ina Fino solera from Domecq.

I saw several familiar soleras for the bottles I drink back home; Fino Jarana, which means party, Amontillado Los Arcos, Palo Cortado PenĂ­nsula and Botaina, which only has 45 barrels in the solera.

The oldest cellar was built in 1835 and smells just like Oloroso! All throughout, the perfectly lit cathedral style arches, as well as the beautiful rosetĂłn stained glass window captivated me. Some of the oldest original barrels are actually green rather than painted black. The sacristia holds the barrels of wines older than 30 years old.

Unfortunately, we did not sample from any of the barrels. Instead, Juan led me upstairs to a lovely white room with glasses and bottles all lined up for me to taste.

grand cata

Juan did not taste with me, but sat at a table off to the side. I felt a bit awkward tasting them alone without any added commentary or opinion. It seemed such a waste to taste only a sip and pour out the remaining wine down the sink.

I was honored and humbled by Juan taking an entire day for my visit. Before kissing my goodbyes at 3 PM, Juan toasted a glass of Oloroso Añada with me. It was by far my favorite! It’s a naturally sweetened Oloroso without any Pedro Ximénez added. It tasted like honey and orange blossoms.

I am so very glad to have met Juan Mateos ArizĂłn and to see Lustau through his eyes. My entire last day with him was the perfect summary of my entire Sherry Odyssey.

me + Juan

Lustau Pt 1 -Road Trip!

Road Trippin.jpg

Hard to imagine the year is almost at its end. So perhaps, this is the perfect ending for this year’s posts. I’ve been sitting on this last story from my Sherry Odyssey partly because I don’t want to admit all good things must come to an end for new journeys to begin.

Ever since discovering sherry, Lustau has been a huge part of my education. What better way to end my Sherry Odyssey with them! It was my last day in Jerez, the last bodega visit and the perfect summary for all my experiences rolled into one full day!

Lustau patioI arrived at Bodegas Lustau bright and early and waited downstairs by security for Juan Mateos Arizón. Juan is Sherry Triangle incarnate; he works in El Puerto de Santa Maria, lives in Jerez de la Frontera and vacations in Sanlúcar de Barrameda. Juan tied up a few loose ends at the bodega, and then we were off in his car heading to Sanlúcar.

We took the breathtaking scenic route with wild flowers covering the roadsides in reds, yellows and purple. He pointed out where he loves to ride his horses. It’s not surprising with his love for sherry and horses that he also loves flamenco. As soon as he learned I dance flamenco back home, he turned on some bulerias.

scenic routeAs he told me more about Lustau’s history, he pointed out all the vineyards and land owned by his extended family. I did not realize I was in the presence of sherry royalty. His cheery disposition is only a fraction of his passion for his family’s legacy in the sherry trade. ArizĂłn derives from his Irish roots ~ Harrison ~ who played a large role for sherry with the East India Trade company.

We arrived at Viña Las Cruces, between Rota and Sanlúcar, where they grow Moscatel & Pedro Ximénez. Juan pointed out Chipiona and Huelva in the distance. It was so quiet. It felt like another world surrounded by blooming cactus and fruit trees. Similar to my visit with Spirit Sherry, he brought me here to see the growing vines, and to become familiar with the soil. Vineyards are stressed for water, so they rely on the humidity of the river and sea during the cooler evenings to water their roots.

villa carmenWe went on into SanlĂşcar where Juan drove me around showing me his childhood memories. As he put it, SanlĂşcar is his passion. He loves this place and spent many childhood summers here. This is also where he fell in love with riding horses. What better way to learn than on these beaches? We passed by the old castle and along the banks of the blue water filled with fishing boats. He pointed out the villa where Juan’s family once crammed over 40 people inside for the summer!

Almacenista SeriesWe finally arrived at the small Almancenista bodega of Manuel Cuevas Jurado. This is where they produce small batch bottles of Manzanilla Pasada and Amontillado de Sanlúcar for Lustau’s Almancenista series. These are very special bottles. The numbers on the label design indicate that the bottling came from just one of 80 barrels of Manzanilla Pasada and one of only 21 barrels of the Amontillado. I cannot tell you how excited I was to be tasting directly from these barrels as part of my, as Juan coined it, Ultimate Lustau Wine Experience!

bougainvilleaBefore even entering the cellar of barrels, I was captivated by the patio that opens up to a stunning Bougainvillea arbor stretching across the top. Inside, the space is small and crowded with barrels well over one hundred years old. Because heat rises, the Amontillado barrels stay on the top layers, placing the delicate Manzanilla barrels on the floor where temperatures do not vary. The windows do not have glass and are covered with woven mats to block the sunlight yet allow the humid air to circulate.

As Capataz for 38 years, Pepe continues the same work passed down through the generations to establish the best conditions for the wines so that he can then pass off the role to his successor. He is with the wines day in, day out. Pepe knows exactly where each wine is at in fermentation and aging, and when it’s time to run the scales and blend the barrels. He takes care of each barrel of wine as if they were his children.

Pepe explained that even though Manzanilla and Finos start with the same must, the microclimate in Sanlúcar is different enough from El Puerto and Jerez, that the character of the wine changes during fermentation and aging, thus requiring a different classification. It’s more aromatic and maintains a distinct salinity.

ManzanillaHe first pulled a glass of Manzanilla from the criadera barrels to demonstrate the importance of drinking the wine when it has aged a bit. Most Manzanilla and Finos are pulled from the criadera after only two or three years in barrel to please the masses who like it young with little depth of character. To me it’s much harsher to drink and would explain why many Americans are put off by it. Pepe agreed as he poured us glasses from the solera where the Manzanilla had been blended and aged five years. Just those two extra years of aging added a lovely golden color and nutty flavor.

Here it’s still tradition to use the venencia made of bamboo rather than the stainless steel used elsewhere. I love the sound it makes dipping into the barrel. We sampled the Amontillado from the barrel. Aged for about 30 years, it was spectacular! Juan pointed out that this would be best served chilled in a white wine glass paired with artichokes, and mushroom risotto topped with parmesan cheese.

As we headed out to say our goodbyes, we walked around the corner and Pepe stopped and handed me a piece of chalk. How humbling and exciting to once again sign a sherry barrel. I was very honored for the opportunity.

Stay tuned for part-two as Juan takes me through Bodegas Lustau and the grand cata of all their amazing wines and brandy!

Meeting the Edmundos at Bodegas Grant

Bodegas Grant doorwayOne of the first Amontillados to leave a lasting impression on me was Amontillado La Garrocha from Bodegas Grant. It’s a small, family-owned bodega in El Puerto de Santa María. Like many small bodegas, they do not have their own vineyards, but purchase their grape must from other growers. Since its founding in the mid 1800’s, they’ve mostly functioned as almacenistas selling their wines to replenish soleras in other sherry houses. It’s only been recently that they’ve bottled under their own label. It was highly recommended that I make a visit while in the Sherry Triangle.

It was my first train experience venturing outside of Jerez all on my own. I admit, I was a little nervous walking down unfamiliar streets using my phone to guide me. I arrived at the bodega’s storefront much earlier than my appointment. The kind lady inside said I could wait in the café just around the corner.

I sat down and ordered a café con leche. A man reading his paper at the end of the bar shyly introduced himself at Edmundo. He remained behind his paper, occasionally making conversation until his father, Edmundo Sr., arrived to greet us both and paid the tab.

Bodegas Grant

The cafĂ© was conveniently attached to the back entrance to the bodega. It’s a lovely space, full of light, yet managed to keep out the day’s growing heat. Compared to his tall, shy son, Edmundo Sr. was an average height Spaniard full of animated gestures as we tasted wines from their barrels. He explained that unlike Jerez, the flor yeast in El Puerto does not vary in thickness since the temperatures aren’t as extreme in winter or summer.

Fino + FlorEdmundo Sr. walked over to a Fino barrel and had to chisel open the bung. He handed me a glass of Fino wine mixed with the flor to taste how it influences the flavor. I was surprised by the pungent aroma of fresh almond and its subtle sweetness. The flor not only influences the wine’s nose and flavor, it’s key for protecting the wine from oxygen. When I tasted the Fino on it’s own, the aroma of the flor was still present, yet the wine was bone dry for being only three years old. They don’t currently bottle en rama, or unfiltered Fino, for export markets. Perhaps they will in the future, but for now it’s only available for local patrons.

Amontillado La GarrochaNext, he poured me a glass from the La Garrocha Amontillado barrel. Magnífico! I’ve never had anything so fresh! Truly trumped my initial experience back in Oregon!

Once the flor dies and oxygen is exposed to the wine, their Amontillado is ready for bottling after aging approximately 9 years. I could taste the Fino influence, but the body was much fuller and richer. The color was a beautiful topaz and the nose was a balance of almonds and toffee.

US Exports - La GarrochaAs I continued to taste through, Edmundo Jr. participated more in conversation, especially explaining to his father I already knew my sherry basics. Our conversation transitioned to their excitement of their growing export market. Currently they only export half-bottles of the La Garrocha Fino, Amontillado and Oloroso. Their first shipment was 300 cases, and just last year they exported 1500 cases!

We walked over to a table where they set up the remaining flight of their La Garrocha wines. Oloroso always smells like it would be sweet, but it’s bone dry on the palate. This one had a lovely citrus finish. Although I prefer dry sherries, I wasn’t going to turn down their sweet ones. The less sweet of the three was the Cream. Their Cream is a blend of the Oloroso with a splash of Pedro XimĂ©nez for added sweetness. It smelled like raisins and had a beautiful amber color.

The Moscatel surprised me. It reminded me of honey, yet it wasn’t empalagoso, or overly sweet. Unlike the Pedro XimĂ©nez, which coated my mouth like syrup and lingered. It’s smell took me back to being a child eating out of a snack box of Sun-Maid raisins.

We ended our visit toasting with a glass of a Amontillado Viejo averaging 20 years old. I asked them to sign my “sherry bible” before they sent me off with a gift of a signed poster and a bottle of La Garrocha Amontillado. They highly recommended I return for harvest next year. I just might take them up on it!

un brindis

A Special Visit with El Maestro Sierra

EMS sign

It’s so quiet.

All you can hear are birds.

So peaceful.

~ Excerpt from my journal April 24, 2015

Pilar PláI knew I wanted to visit El Maestro Sierra after reading their backstory in my “sherry bible.” Firstly, I loved that a master cooper, building barrels for Gonzalez Byass, founded it because he wanted to become an almacenista. (Sherry makers at that time typically earned their vocation out of a birthright and did not favor this start-up mentality.) Secondly, I love that in a very male-dominated trade, this bodega is run by women.

From the street, the bodega was pretty unassuming and just as humble inside. They don’t do tours, so I was glad Ana was available on short notice. Eduardo from Spirit Sherry encouraged me to visit, and I’m so glad I did. It was by far one of the most unique experiences I had while in the Sherry Triangle.

They are quite strict about maintaining their way of tradition down to the letter. The botas are the original barrels from 1830. Ana explained that there is a four-degree difference between the floor and the area above. Which is why they keep their barrels of Fino on the bottom rows of the solera where it’s cooler, with the Oloroso barrels stacked on top where it is warmer.

EMS wax sealEverything is done by hand, using no machinery. They stick to the old method of siphoning the wines from the barrels to aid the blending process. They use no chemicals or harsh filtration. If filtration is needed, it’s only using egg whites and gentle paper filters to catch any large particles. They even run off of well water to guarantee no chlorine touches their wines. Even their labels are applied by hand. It was certainly the quietest winery I had been in!

The conversation and tour with Ana was fast pace with little pausing for pictures. She left me alone with my cata, or tasting. I wished she’d share her thoughts with me on each wine. Since they are such an authentic bodega, I wanted to know the special nuances that set their wines apart from others.

I did my best to write down my own thoughts for each. I started with the Fino I’ve had in the past. It is dry, but mature for being only five years old. Due to the gentle filtration, it has a strong flor, or yeast influence. I loved it’s golden color in the sunlight. Next, I tasted the Amontillado. It’s aged twelve years, but still had a very salty Fino influence. I loved its butterscotch aromas and topaz color.

The flight quickly moved onto the aged bottles. The Viejos are only bottled once a year in September and only 20 to 70 bottles at a time. Because so very few are bottled in general, each label has the date and number written on the back.

Amontillado Viejo 1830 comes from a solera that started when the winery was founded. On the nose, I picked up a metallic brass note. On the palate, although it was dry, it was very round with nice toffee notes. The Palo Cortado had an amazingly clear amber color. I’m a lover of all Palo Cortados, and this one had such a nutty complexity, I couldn’t put my glass down. That was until I moved onto the two Oloroso VORS! The Oloroso 1/14 VORS hit my nose like a the smell of varnish and burnt caramel, but the flavor was intense and heated the sides of my tongue similar to a really smooth whiskey. They saved the best for last. The star of this show was certainly the Oloroso Extraviejo 17 VORS. It averages over 80 years old! It too had a smell of polished wood floors and caramelized bananas. The finish was rich and lingered on forever. It took a lot of willpower not to reach over and help myself to a second glass.

El Maestro Sierra BlissI didn’t stay long, but I certainly did not want to leave this silent sanctuary. It was like stepping back in time. I enjoyed having a moment to pause and take a deep breath. So much love and care goes into this place, and I could feel it extend to even to me as a visitor. I am so grateful for this unique experience.