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 UKErik 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 HennesseyDon’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.

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.

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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.

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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.

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Me, Rocío, Mario, Paco + Fran

From Blog to Boutique

 

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I just returned home from a month in the Sherry Triangle. Part of my visit I finally met Helen Highley in person. I’ve been following her criadera.com blog since I first started diving into my sherry obsession three years ago. I’m very excited to help announce that she is now launching an online store SherryBoutique.com TODAY! (Sadly, the store is only serving the UK.)

In recent years the UK has rediscovered its love of sherry, with a new generation learning that sherry doesn’t have to mean a sticky, sweet bottle brought out by a great-aunt at Christmas. In the same way that we’ve embraced craft beer and gin, the fresh, exciting and complex wines produced in Spain’s tiny ‘sherry triangle’ have found an enthusiastic and growing audience in the UK.

Part of the band of bloggers and food writers helping to drive this growth is the team behind criadera.com – a blog about the people, places and wines of the Sherry Triangle. The success of the blog, coupled with their passion for sherry has prompted the Criadera team to launch the online store sherryboutique.com – giving UK sherry lovers the chance to buy some of the most exceptional, limited release sherries available.

As the name suggests, this is a truly boutique approach to online retailing – a small range will be available, from a classic bone-dry Fino to accompany olives or seafood, to a VORS Oloroso with an average age of 45 years. Currently, sherryboutique.com imports wines from two very small, family-owned bodegas – Bodegas Urium and Bodegas Faustino Gonzalez – that make exceptional wines in small volumes in Jerez de la Frontera, Andalucía. These are artisans producing very special premium products. Future plans include featuring guest sherries from other bodegas to complement the range.

uriumBodegas Urium is the fulfillment of a lifelong dream for owner Alonso Ruiz, whose father passed on his passion for sherry and inspired a desire to make it. Alonso bought a bodega containing soleras dating back to the 18th century and in 2009, with daughter Rocío, launched Bodegas Urium. As well as Fino En Rama and Manzanilla Pasada (both eight years average age), they produce two ranges:

  • Clásicos – with average ages of between 12 and 15 years
  • VORS – minimum certified average age of 30 years, but in reality close to an average of 45 years

They also produce a very special Palo Cortado (Gran Señor de Urium) – average age of 100 years. Bodegas Urium sherries can be found on the wine lists of Michelin-starred restaurants in Spain and the rest of Europe.

cruzviejaBodegas Faustino Gonzalez was founded in 1971, when a local doctor bought soleras dating back to 1758 and moved them to his wife’s bodega in the part of Jerez known as Cruz Vieja – the old cross. In 2014 his family launched the Cruz Vieja range of sherries, the first time sherries from the bodega have been commercially available. Each sherry is ‘En Rama’ meaning that it has been bottled without any filtration, clarification or other treatment. This means that all the flavors and fantastic complexity are retained for you to enjoy.

These are very exclusive sherries, with only 1000 bottles of each type released each year worldwide. They grace the wine lists of several Michelin-starred restaurants in Spain and every sherry in the range has been awarded 90+ Parker Points. The listing for each sherry includes knowledgeable yet accessible tasting notes and descriptions, and information on the bodegas themselves to give customers an understanding of the people behind these wines. There’s no minimum order quantity and the sherries can be shipped throughout the UK.

Helen Highley comments “We are sherry lovers first and foremost, and over our years of visiting the region we became convinced that the UK was ready to rediscover sherry and fall in love with it all over again. The success of criadera.com proved that there is clear sector of consumers who want to learn more about this wonderful wine, but we wanted to do more. We’ve been lucky enough to taste amazing wines from tiny bodegas that simply weren’t available in the UK and we felt passionately that they should be. They trusted us to bring their brands to enthusiastic sherry lovers in the UK, and we’re thrilled that a number of independent wine merchants and restaurants now stock these wines and we can share them with people who love them as much as we do. But not every sherry lover lives in a big city with indie wine shops or restaurants that ‘get’ sherry. sherryboutique.com is for those sherry lovers who want to enjoy these very special sherries but don’t have a stockist nearby.”

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He said it best!

After publishing my experiences with Bodegas Urium, owner and wine master, Alonso Ruíz Olivares asked me to help translate them into Spanish. Even though it didn’t take long to do, I was embarrassed that for having my degree in Spanish, I still don’t sound like a native speaker. I didn’t realize he would publish it on his Facebook page with my picture!

I appreciated the feedback from some who called my writing poetic and lovely. One person asked for further clarification. Alonso wrote these words in response:

Pienso que es el reconocimiento a las atenciones recibidas.
Atenciones que ofrecemos a cualquier persona que llama a las puertas, redes sociales o teléfono de bodegas urium, ponemos a su disposición, la mejor selección de vinos de jerez para catar y brindar con un Jerez de Honor, totalmente gratuito y sin ningún compromiso.
Eso si aún sin tener obligación de compra, casi todos compran alguna que otra botella para compensar los gastos.
Esperamos tu visita en bodegas Urium Jerez
Un abrazo
Alonso Ruiz

I think it is the recognition of the care received.
We offer hospitality to anyone who knocks on Urium Winery’s doors, reaches out via social media networks or by phone. We offer the best selection of sherries to taste and toast with the Honor of Jerez, completely free and without obligation.
Even without the obligation to buy, almost everyone buys a bottle of this or that to offset expenses.
We await your visit to Bodegas Urium in Jerez.
Hugs,
Alonso Ruiz

Once again, he understood me completely.

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A Visit to Bodegas Urium – pt 2

Bodegas UriumWhile visiting with Rocio, the director at Bodegas Urium, I told her about my goal to have each bodega sign my copy of Sherry, Manzanilla & Montilla. She said her father and winemaker should do the honor, and insisted I return to meet Alonso Ruíz Olivares.

me and AlonsoI came back the next afternoon and tapped on the metal door. As it slowly slid open, there stood the smiling face of Santa Claus. He welcomed me in like an old friend.

The American in me wanted to jump right in and have him sign my book so I wouldn’t take too much of his time by interrupting his day. Instead, he started the conversation with, “what would you like to drink?” He was in no hurry, and had me taste through the barrels once again.

Any visitor will note Alonso is passionate about sherry! He commutes from Huelva to Jerez to care for his wines. As soon as he knew I was an aficionado, he quickly took the role of mentor and poured out hours of knowledge on me!

He gently reminded me to hold my glass at the stem so I wouldn’t warm the wine. He showed me how he checks the veil of flor with a mirror and flashlight. He had me smell through a vertical flight of Palo Cortado, which rabbit-trailed our conversation to his computer. He insisted on showing me his PowerPoint presentation that included the science of how aromas last in the memory much stronger than the flavors. He is so proud of Urium’s growing reputation. He excitedly pointed out how they come out on top of a Google search, and even have many YouTube references.

By the time I left the bodega, I not only got an autograph in my book, but I walked away with a new “father” in Jerez. Throughout the rest of my sherry odyssey, Alonso would text me hija, por donde andas to make sure I was safe and sound.

Even my last hours before leaving Jerez were spent in the bodega with Alonso, Rocio and her husband Mario. I felt so at home in this place with these new friends. Right before they took me to the train station bound for Madrid, Alonso sang me my favorite letra from Sevillanas – Algo se muere en el alma, cuando un amigo se va. Something in the soul dies when a friend goes away.

Rest assure, I will be back.

A Visit to Bodegas Urium – Pt 1

UriuimI’ve been holding onto a bottle of Oloroso from Bodegas Urium for a special occasion. Sadly, their wines are not currently available in my corner of the world. Yet, this month I’ve had so many reasons to celebrate, I felt it was time to break out the bottle. The aroma alone smacked me with this single thought – It smells like home.

RocioIt all started when I was planning my sherry odyssey back in April. It was highly recommended I visit Bodegas Urium. My schedule was packed and since they are only available by appointment on Tuesdays and Thursdays, I couldn’t squeeze them in. Thank goodness for Whatsapp! I received a last minute text from Rocío Ruiz, daughter and director of the winery. She happened to be in the bodega on a Monday for a special visit, and invited me to join them for the tasting. I had an appointment right before with Grupo Estevez, but was determined to make it work! This decision set the stage for something far greater than just a tasting.

It was wonderful tasting through the wines directly from the barrels and to listen in on the fast paced conversation. I enjoyed sharing how Rocío and I met through Twitter connections and why I’m so passionate about sherry. Rocío coined me the Sherry Missionary; out to tell the world and convert them to drink more sherry!

Each glass of wine came straight from the barrels! Rocío poured Fino from the same solera to demonstrate how each barrel can impact the wine differently. We also tasted a ten-year-old Fino whose flor was dying off and will be blended into Amontillado. The six of us spent the entire afternoon drinking through Fino, Amontillado, Oloroso, Palo Cortado and Pedro Ximenez VORS. Their elegant wine bottles are a beautiful way to showcase these wines. Every little detail represents the passion this family has for its wine!

As everyone was leaving, Rocío took me out for tapas before she had to head back home to Huelva. We parked in a supermarket lot, which used to be a beautiful cathedral style sherry bodega for Garvey’s. (Note: you must make a purchase if you want to exit the lot.) Once in the tapas bar, we talked like old friends. It was amazing how connected we felt for only having met for the first time. She insisted that I come back the next day to meet her father, Alonso. I’ll write about that experience in another post.

Rocio + Mario This visit was meant to be. It was far more than a sherry tasting. I made a new bond of friendship with a kindred spirit! My husband teases me that we’re like two teenage girls when we text each other. That may also be why it took so long to open the bottle. I long to return, and hate how far it is from Portland to Jerez. Urium isn’t just wine, it’s family. Walk through their doors and you’ll see what I mean.