Antonio Flores Pedregosa is one of the Sherry industry’s most revered blenders and having lived and breathed Tio Pepe from the moment he was born in Gonzalez Byass’ iconic bodega in Jerez de la Frontera in 1955; he is certainly one of the finest. Having joining the company where his father was head of production in 1980, Antonio Flores has continued the family traditions of creating award winning Sherries in the heart of Andalucía.
At the 2012 London International Wine Trade Fair, CellarVie Wines interviewed the hugely charismatic Antonio Flores [via our resident translator Charlotte Hey] to discuss his winemaking philosophy, the ethos of Gonzalez Byass, the much championed latest release of Tio Pepe Fino en Rama, and why sherry is no longer the staid wine category of yesteryear…
Describe your winemaking philosophy…
The difficult thing about being a winemaker in Jerez (Sherry) is that we don’t make wines for every vintage, or what the Spanish call authority wines. We receive the wines that are already destined to be in a certain style, so in many respects we are making wines for the next generation. It’s very different to making it each year because it is all about the legacy.
Your father was a winemaker. What influence did this have your subsequent career?
I was born in the winery. I owe my father not only my life, but also the way I was brought up. I was born, raised and immersed in the winery. I saw my father work from a very, very young age in the winery. I saw him taste the wines with the González Byass owner. I imbibed the ethos of González Byass as a child.
Were you always destined to be a winemaker?
I wanted to be a journalist when I was younger. I am a bit of a frustrated writer but where I was born influenced what I ended up doing. I had a choice, but I didn’t have a choice!
What are your passions outside of wine?
I love perfume. If I was not a winemaker I would have loved to have been a perfumer. I love the world of aromas, of sensation; it is something I absolutely adore.
There is obviously a close connection between perfume and wine…
The connection is obvious of course, but I work in an unreal world. It’s all to do with perceptions. How often do you smell something that takes you back to a moment or a person that you loved, or you fell in love with once upon a time? Every perfume changes on every different woman. Every woman smells differently even when wearing the same perfume. And it is the same with wine. Every wine is different when tasted by different people. We bring our own personal perception, our own unique understanding and ethos to how a wine tastes and smells. It’s a very personal thing, a beautiful thing and an individual thing.
You speak of wine in perfume terms and as a sherry winemaker it seems particularly relevant. Sherry appears to be very perfume like…
When I came here [to the London International Wine Trade Fair] I was walking by the Thames River and I could smell the sea. This reminds me of the wines of Fino because Jerez is very close to the sea. The sea, the salty smell, the saline character to it, is very familiar but also the wines have a yeasty quality. The aromas of baked bread, the complex characters you can smell and taste at the same time. The scent of sherry is important because it is a representation of its surroundings and the way in which it is made.
Sherry has undergone a revival in the UK. It used to be associated with a certain age-bracket but it is increasingly common in London cocktail bars and more and more popular with the young. Why is this?
Sherry is a range, a wide range of taste, smell and flavours. It is not just the sweet sherry that perhaps our grandmothers used to drink. The different styles appear to have been unearthed by the young recently, they are beginning to see and understand that complexity and variety. The thing about sherry is that it is like riding a horse; you don’t start riding a thoroughbred, you start with a pony and work your way up. Eventually you can gallop on a thoroughbred horse if the sport grips you. Sherry is the same. You start with perhaps a sweeter style because it is easier to understand and appreciate and then you progress, you move. It is a journey of discovery that takes time, understanding and commitment and only then can you understand exactly what Jerez is.
Marks and Spencer’s have partly credited Downtown Abbey with the sudden revival in sherry sales in the UK. In the aftermath of the Christmas special M&S recorded a 15% rise in sherry sales...
We have this program in Spain, but I promise it’s not just because of Downtown Abbey!
The vintage labels on Tio Pepe Fino en Rama have created quite a buzz and have been credited as a contributing factor to the wine’s success. People seem to look forward to their unveiling nearly as much as the wine itself. Can you explain the thinking behind these labels? [This year’s is an old Sherry label from 1857 featuring a stylised grapevine surrounded by a red ribbon.]
One of the great things about González Byass is that it has great historical archives, which date back to the company’s foundation in 1835. Having such a rich history, with five generations of the same family is amazing. They can go back into the archive and pull out old labels that were originally used by their forefathers, actual labels that were on the market 150 years ago, and reuse them. The ethos of legacy and heritage is both visible and palpable at González Byass. Using them again is a great reminder of our rich traditions but it is also that continuation of what preceded us. It has become a great talking point.
The idea of legacy and history seems particularly pertinent at González Byass…
It’s vital. The history of the company is what González Byass is. To move forwards you must rely on your foundations and that is our strength. González Byass has a very long and strong history and it enables us to progress and build on that history. What we leave for the next generation is so important because it is a reflection of us in the past and them in the future. This ethos allows us to plan long term. There is no quick fix, everything is carefully considered because legacy and heritage is crucial. The heart of the company is in Jerez and we have always believed in the product. It is long-term, always thinking about the future but honouring and paying respect to the past. We are not a quick profit organisation. We never have been and we never will be. Whilst we have wineries in Rioja and all over Spain, the foundations of the company are very much in Jerez. Our influence on the town is very evident and something we are very proud of. Everyone’s family has some kind of association with the company, whether it is like me, with my father being a former winemaker or another type of association, everyone in Jerez is immersed in González Byass or have a vested interest in the company in some form and we are very proud of that. What do we have if they take our history away from us? Nothing
What does a normal day for you during harvest entail?
I get up very early at about six in the morning. My day is always planned before I go to bed the night before and so I know exactly where and what is being harvested on that day. I know where we are going to be receiving grapes from, as we have over 800 hectares of vineyard. We will then clean the winery from top to bottom so that it is completely immaculate. Émile Peynaud, who was one of the greatest winemakers in the last century, said that you can’t have a harvest without water. I am not referring to rain, I am talking about being clean. You have to be clean all the time in the winery to maintain the purity of the product. You can lose the ethos and identity of the product if you are not meticulous in your approach. Then I am there all day, controlling the grapes and seeing what is arriving. Monitoring how it is being pressed, the level of the grapes, how the fermentation starts.
Everything is about controlling it down to the finest detail. During the harvest, the process of winemaking begins at six in the morning and finishes at midnight. Control in the harvest is the most important thing because in those few days, you decide what the quality of the wine is going to be like for the next year. I dream about the harvest, I have panic attacks and wake up dreaming about the fermentation. I dream that I wake up at midday and all the lorries are waiting for me and I am not there.