Bodegas Faustino Gonzalez – small is beautiful
It’s Vendimia here in Jerez – harvest time. Thanks to unusual weather, harvest has been unusually early this year, which means that in many bodegas the grapes have been pressed and the first fermentation is either underway or nearly complete. It also means the bodegas are even busier than usual right now.
Thankfully, that didn’t stop Bodegas Faustino Gonzalez giving us a peek inside the smallest bodega in Jerez.
It all began with a visit to La Casa Del Jerez (aka The Sherry Shop), across the road from the hotel. Not far from the Equestrian School, they often have a venenciador pouring sherry from the barrel at lunchtime to entice visitors with a free copa of Fino. Inside they have probably the most comprehensive sherry selection I’ve seen for sale in Jerez. Borja, who runs the shop, is one of the sixteen sons of the bodega’s founder. Before we knew it, a visit was planned for after the shop closed. In the meantime, we enjoyed the spectacle of Momoko – a famous Japanese venenciadora – wielding the venencia with style.
Sticking with tradition
Faustino Gonzalez is a small, family business – indeed they reckon they’re the smallest bodega in Jerez. The bodega was founded in 1970 by Doctor Faustino Gonzalez Aparicio, as a passion project. He bought some very old soleras and established the bodega in the shadow of the thousand-year old Iglesia San Miguel in central Jerez, overlooked by the house where his wife was born. He began as an Almacenista, selling his sherry in bulk to the bigger bodegas.
The day to day sherry-making is now managed by Jaime, one of Faustino’s younger sons and when we visited three of the brothers were there. Recently they have moved from Almacenista to selling sherry directly under the brand Cruz Vieja – named for the plaza practically outside the bodega in the heart of flamenco Jerez.
The family does things the traditional way – they have their own small vineyard El Carmen de Montealegre, classified as Jerez Superior, so they can control the process from start to finish. The bodega is one of the very rare makers to carry out the fermentation in barrels rather than stainless steel (the only other commercial wines fermented in this way are Inocente and Tio Diego), and there is little modern machinery in evidence.
Snap, crackle and pop
As I’ve already mentioned, Vendimia came early this year and so many bodegas’ grapes have been picked, pressed and prepared for fermentation. Faustino Gonzalez is no exception. In fact the day before we visited, the ‘tumultuous fermentation’ – the first rapid and turbulent fermentation that usually lasts just over a week – had begun. This is something we had never witnessed before. Of course it happens in the barrel, so it’s difficult to photograph (although we had a try, as you can see).
However, the thing about the tumultuous fermentation is not so much the sight as the sound…
Those of you who are familiar with Rice Krispies (a popular breakfast cereal in the UK and US) will know the happy sound they make when you pour milk on them. Place your ear to the hole at the top of the fermentation barrel, and that’s what you hear:
Snap, Crackle, Pop.
You might not be able to see much, but you’re left in no doubt that it’s busy, busy, busy inside that barrel!
History in a glass
The bodega produces all types of dry sherry and a PX. None of them have official age classifications, but all are on the old side. We tasted all straight from the barrel, including Amontillado from the 1st criadera, where the wine has an average age of 15 years. That Amontillado was rich and resiny – if pushed I could have believed it was actually a Palo Cortado. Until, of course, I tasted the Palo! It was even more resinous, refined on the nose and rich, complex and nutty in the mouth.
We were very lucky to taste Don Gaspar – the family’s own Oloroso that will always be only for family consumption. The bodega has three barrels of Don Gaspar and the solera dates back to the 1789. There’s no way of knowing exactly how old it is, without the usual classification process needed to confirm a VOS or VORS wine, but it was clearly very old. Rafael, the capataz, refreshes Don Gaspar from the main Oloroso solera as needed.
Launching the Cruz Vieja brand
So far the bodega has released two sherries under the Cruz Vieja brand: Fino and Amontillado, both En Rama and both limited releases of 1000 bottles. Oloroso and Palo Cortado are due to follow next month. At just around £12 and £15 per bottle respectively, both the Fino and the Amontillado are something pretty special for the price: barrel-fermented, single vineyard, relatively old, hand-bottled En Rama, on very limited release. Oh, yes and they taste brilliant! Add to that a back-story of a family who love sherry and make it for the sheer love of it, and you’ve got alchemy in a bottle.
Availability note: Currently not available outside of Spain, but La Casa del Jerez website will soon include an online shop to purchase direct.