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