Farewell Manolo – a tribute
The sherry world lost a giant this week. Manolo Lozano spent his entire working life in sherry, from his first job in the labs at Terry through to becoming the lead winemaker at Lustau. Only 61 when he passed away suddenly this Tuesday, he was named ‘Best Fortified Winemaker in the World’ a staggering seven years in a row at the International Wine Challenge.
He gave us the fabulous and ground-breaking Tres En Rama range – En Rama Finos from Jerez and El Puerto and an En Rama Manzanilla from Sanlúcar, released as a suite to highlight the differences between the same wine from the three sherry towns. He also presided over the enormous task of bringing four Domecq soleras (La Ina, Botaina, Río Viejo and Viña 25) into the Lustau stable, including moving every drop safely from one side of Jerez to the other whilst also ensuring the market continued to be supplied.
Last September I had the pleasure of spending time with Manolo, getting behind the scenes at Lustau for a forthcoming article on Sherry.Wine. I was a bit overawed, truth to tell: here was a sherrymaker of rock star status. But the afternoon passed in a flash, with lots of laughter and a generous splash of fino. Sherry rock star he may have been, but first and foremost he was a really nice bloke with a twinkle in his eye.
We talked about the epic task of moving the Domecq soleras to Lustau, which he managed over a period of years. There were 2 million litres to move, so he started with the ‘easy’ bit – the oxidatively aged wines. Even then he did a small scale fact finding move first, to test the climatic conditions and make sure the wines would retain their organoleptic qualities once moved. Each of the four different wines needed treating differently, and La Ina was undoubtedly the hardest – so he left that one until last. The fino was moved without its velo de flor, and he needed to find the right blend of flor for the new location, to make sure the wine continued to taste like La Ina in its new home. Not a task for the fainthearted, and one that sounded hugely technical and scientific from where I was sitting. When I put that to him, he was absolutely clear that his work was not only technical:
Taking decisions about the wine is a combination of science and art. The nose is everything – I know what it needs to smell and taste like to maintain the line.
He talked a lot about maintaining the line – he was disciplined in his stewardship of all the Lustau sherries, and devoted to maintaining the sensational flavours of every wine. In fact when I asked him what he was most proud of, this maintenance of the line was top of the list along with the international recognition Lustau has achieved through its many many awards and prizes.
And his favourite part of the job?
I love every step from the vine to the copa. But the direct contact with the wine is the thing I love most. Look at this callous on my finger – that’s how much I use the venencia!
I ask everyone I interview to name their favourite sherry, and so of course I did the same with Manolo. I knew from reading past interviews that he was notorious tight-lipped on the issue. He said it was like choosing one child above all others and he wouldn’t be able to do that. However, with a bit of cajoling he did confess to the wine he would take to a desert island if he could only have one: Amontillado Botaina.
Amontillado is the most stylish wine. It’s the perfect sherry because of the double crianza. And Botaina is an old style Amontillado – more glycerine than acetaldehyde, and very balanced. But it’s a very complicated choice – I wouldn’t normally answer this question.
So I got the scoop, although it feels like a hollow victory as I sit here writing this. I’d far prefer that he was walking the soleras of the Lustau bodega today, venencia in hand, copa raised to his genius nose, than to be writing a tribute article. However, let’s make good use of the information: if you want to toast the maestro of Lustau and his tragic and untimely passing, raise a glass of Botaina. I know he would approve.