Since 2014 and the celebration of Jerez as European capital of wine, Williams & Humbert, has organized a “Ciclo de Conferencias” and on Friday the guest speaker was one of the most revered voices in Spanish winemaking: Luis Perez Rodriguez (on the left in the photo above, with Jesús Medina, director of W&H), a renowned academic and professional, formerly of the legendary Bodegas Domecq, now of Bodegas Luis Pérez, and multiple prize winner for his enological research. I have never met him personally, but people that I consider to be authorities cite this man as “the” authority. Indeed, just this weekend I was sent a link to this account of the conference with the explanation that this was “the person with the most complete knowledge of Jerez by a considerable distance”.
So it is no surprise to hear that over 150 turned up to hear what he had to say – I wish I had been one of them (in fact I missed two great events this week – Alvaro Giron Sierra gave one of his tours de force in Barcelona on Tuesday). As it is, I have only seen the press stories and the press release that was kindly sent to me by Williams & Humbert but from what I have seen some excellent points were made. As such, since I have found no translation I have had a stab at my own below – not as elegant as Don Luis’ original phrasing but one does one’s best .
As the title above suggests, the main thrust of the presentation was forward looking, and focussed on how to win greater value for the wines of the region, although interestingly he appears also to have addressed one of the issues that I find most fascinating about the region: the dichotomy between the vines and vineyards, on the one hand, and the “high walls” of the bodegas, on the other.
The issue is summarized elegantly: “since no other wine exists that evolves as much during the ageing process as does a jerez wine, it is easy to see that the world of the bodegas has such a dominant role that it beomes very difficult to see beyond its walls”.
It is clear that, for Don Luis, it would be a mistake to focus exclusively on the bodegas. “The reality of Jerez includes a patrimony that goes beyond the bodegas and as long as three thousand years ago captivated the visiting phoenicians: the vineyards, and specifically the pagos of Albariza”. As he put it “one cannot understand the concept of a wine without its vine” a reality which has been “relegated in the last four decades and which must be recovered”.
As examples of the characteristics of the vine and the fruit being given less importance in recent times Don Luis talked about processes that have lead to a “greater standardization” of wines. Specifically mentioned are the belief that finos de jerez have lost their distinctive characteristics and become more similar to the traditional style of manzanillas (the brilliant verb “amanzanillamiento”) or the way that clarification and stabilization of wines had, until the recent popularity of en rama bottlings, lead to wines that were both more expensive to make and, ironically, less distinctive and perceived to be of lower quality.
For Don Luis, giving greater importance to the vines and vineyards of Jerez would give the wines “characteristics that in today’s world would add great value”, making reference to “winegrowing areas that not only value the character of the vines of the pago but also the even more specific qualities of the precise vineyard” and urging the sector to consider “a classification that differentiates, without creating a manichean black and white, so that the winemaker can characterize his wine harmonizing terroir and crianza”.
He also went on to add that “Jerez today has a strategic opportunity to start such a remodelling. We are talking about a denominación de origen whose current vineyards are more than 7.000 hectares, a surface area that permits it to aspire to the very highest levels of qualiy. Its location makes possible a diversity and a singularity that is very attractive and would permit the recovery of some the varieties of Palomino lost during the 20th Century. This would lead to the production of wines with a real vocation to express terroir”. And returning to his key point, “giving importance to the vine in the wine of jerez, would mean giving that wine characteristics that in today’s world would add significantly to its value.”
The professor went on to make a number of other interesting points about the interplay between science and nature, viticulture and enology, and about the iconic, evocative power of wine in general and the wines of Jerez in particular. For those I can only refer you to the official press release (to which I cannot find a link) and other accounts like the one in Diario de Jerez linked above. But these thoughts on terroir and the characteristics that terroir can imprint on the wines strike me as so important that I wanted to share them.
And although Don Luis appears to have stuck to his resolution to look to the future, the dichotomy that he rightly points out between the vineyard and the bodega seems to me to be a subject that deserves some serious attention. There is no doubt about the miracles that can be achieved in the bodega, and the solera, but neither is there any doubt in my mind of the unique characteristics of wines from different vineyards, and for much of the time it seems that the two camps in Don Luis’ dichotomy are on opposite sides and pulling in different directions, a fight which given the relative size of the parties can only result in the dominance of the bodegas. However, and precisely because of that muscle it is those bodegas that stand most to gain, as this thoughtful conference elegantly points out, and if the renaissance of the region is to prove lasting and real then surely those bodegas will play a leading role.
Even if he were not the great authority on the wines of Jerez and Sanlucar that he undoubtedly is, I believe that the evidence of wine regions worldwide, in every style and tradition, proves Don Luis correct in his analysis, and I fervently hope that the bodegas, who are more important than they perhaps realize, hear the call.