In 1835, 23 year-old Manuel Maria Gonzalez Angel reached Jerez prepared to forge his way in the prosperous and thriving sherry business. Encouraged by the continuous development of sherry exports, that year he acquired a small cellar and began to prepare and export his own wine. Shortly after, due to the growing success of his company, Manuel decided to form a partnership with Mr Robert Blake Byass, his agent in England, which gave rise 35 years after foundation and many name changes, to the Gonzalez Byass Company. He was lucky to receive wise counsel from his uncle, D. Jose Angel de la Pena, who was later to be immortalized as the world famous Tio Pepe. The company today is still almost wholly owned and run by the fifth generation of descendants of Manuel, named rather confusingly, Mauricio Gonzalez-Gordon Diez (Marques de Bonanza) and Mauricio Gonzalez-Gordon Lopez de Carrizosa.
The reason for the success of Gonzalez Byass is due to its undertaking to provide quality, the core of the corporative philosophy of the firm that has led it to invest considerable amounts in wine growing, vinification and aging. Palomino grapes are from the Jerez Superior area, where the best "albariza" land is (very limy white earth). The company own 700 hectares of vineyards located in the best spots in the zone: Macharnudo, Carrascal and Burujena.
Bodegas built in the mid 19th century, whose sober exteriors conceal elegant interiors of columns and arches are guarding 80,000 casks of American oak each holding 500 litres of Sherry. To the 46 million litres of aging wine in barrels we must add a further 30 million litres capacity in stainless steel tanks employed to make wine and brandy. In contrast the strikingly modern bodegas to produce Tio Pepe and Las Copas are bold departures in architecture and construction with their own form and scale, yet respecting the golden rules of bodega design - soft shade, fresh dampness and exposure to the Jerez breezes. Built in the early 1960s and christened the Gran Bodega Tio Pepe it t is the only three-storey bodega in the Sherry region.
The vintage usually starts in the first week of September and lasts for 20 days. When the grapes are safely gathered in, fermented and alcohol added to reach 15% the three main elements of Sherry production come into play.
FLOR: This is an unique bacterial blanket that grows on the surface of the freshly pressed grape juice. Growing on the surface of the juice it prevents oxygen from affecting the wines and thus preserves their light character. Should darker, full bodied Oloroso wines be required then alcohol is added raising the level to 17% thus killing the flor and permitting the wines to oxidise.
BUTTS: These are oak barrels in which wines are aged. Of 600 litre capacity they are filled to never more than 500 litres so there is space for the flor to develop for Finos and oxygen to work on Olorosos. Butts can easily be over 100 years old since oak flavours are not necessary for Sherries, and are only changed when repairs are called for or they are too old to be of further use.
SOLERA SYSTEM: The system was developed to ensure consistency in quality and ageing and is based on introducing younger wines to older wines so that the younger acquires some of the character of the older. The Solera consist of rows of butts balanced on top of each other, each row representing one year's vintage with the youngest wines on the top row. As the wine is drawn off from the bottom of the Solera for blending and bottling, usually after 3 years, wine is cascaded down from the level of barrels above . Never more than one third is finally drawn off so allowing the continuous blending process to follow year by year.
Sherry can now be broadly classified as either Fino or Oloroso and are all basically dry wines. Sweetness if needed, for Cream Sherry for example, is achieved by adding sweet Pedro Ximenez wines before bottling.
Classic Finos are pale straw colour, light and very dry, delicate with an aroma reminiscent of almonds. Ideally suited to accompany all sorts of tapas as well as soups, sea foods, fish, ham and cheeses and should always be served well chilled.
TIO PEPE, the brand for which Gonzalez Byass is best known stands with justification amongst the world's top luxury products. It is not only the worldâ€™s most popular Fino sherry but is also the Spanish consumer product enjoyed in the largest number of countries around the world.
Gonzalez Byass sherries cover the whole spectrum of Manzanilla, Fino, Amontillado, Palo Cortado, Oloroso, Pedro Ximenez, and Pale Cream, allowing consumers the chance to vary their portfolio of drinks to suit every possible occasion, both as aperitifs and also with tapas or full scale meals.
Brandy making is very much a part of the company's mission and their Soberano and Lepanto marques are known around the globe whenever fine spirits are enjoyed. Finally, mention should be made of their collection of vintage or Anada sherries of which they are very proud. Each year 200 casks from the total 20,000 casks are set aside fro maturing as single vintage wines. The style is Oloroso at a strength of 22% varying according to the age of the wine and are not clarified or filtered before hand bottling directly from the cask. Current vintages on sale range from 1963 to 1979 and are in individually numbered bottles with usually less than 700 bottles available from each vintage.