Sherry in my veins – behind the scenes with the sherry poet
If you love sherry, you’ve probably come across Antonio Flores, Master Blender at Gonzalez Byass. Maybe you’ve read articles here on Criadera about his wines, watched one of his YouTube videos or joined an online tasting. With a reputation as the sherry poet and an increasingly high public profile, he’s become very much the front man for Tio Pepe and Gonzalez Byass sherries.
But away from that public persona, what does a Master Blender do all day, and how did he get here?
Let’s go behind the scenes, somewhere that’s far more than a workplace to him.
Home, playground, office
Like most of the bodegas in the Sherry Triangle, Gonzalez Byass traditionally employed generations of the same family and Antonio Flores is no exception. His father began work in the bodega aged 14 and worked his way up to become Director of Production. With this role came a home within the bodega complex; a flat next to none other than the Rebollo bodega – the very first bodega on the site and the birthplace of Tio Pepe. Here, within sniffing distance of the wine of which he is now custodian, Antonio was born and raised.
If you do the bodega tour today, it’s hard to imagine running into kids playing football or hide and seek, but when Antonio was a child the bodega was a playground for him and the other bodegueros’ children. These days you’re lucky if you see a mouse sneaking a slurp of PX!
Antonio was also no stranger to the taste of sherry from a young age.
When we went to the beach, Dad would give me and my brother each a glass of Cream to warm us up after we’d been swimming
Following in Dad’s footsteps, Antonio joined Gonzalez Byass in 1980 after completing his degree in Enology at Universitat Rovira i Virgili in Tarragona and his military service. He began working in the labs and sample room and has been with the company ever since.
A day in the life
So, is there such a thing as an average day for a Master Blender in such a huge bodega? When we met he was just back from promoting Tio Pepe En Rama around the UK, which had gone down a treat. Jerez’s Feria del Caballo had just started, and after our visit he was headed to the Tio Pepe caseta at the Feria to entertain clients and distributors. And then – yes there’s more – at the end of the week he was heading to Barcelona for the city’s Sherry Festival. In amongst all that, he found time to take us through the bodegas to taste and discover more about the component parts of the 2015 Tio Pepe En Rama, and to give us an interview. It didn’t sound like there was much time for blending in that hectic agenda.
There’s a lot of travel and marketing these days. In the past, the enologo could hide in the bodega. But bit by bit we now spend more time in marketing. People want to hear about the wines from the people who make it.
But when he’s not travelling, which is a decent proportion of the year, his day in the bodega has a more predictable rhythm. He makes a 7am start in the bodega with his team, checking the bottling line for faults, doing quality assurance checks. Then sampling from barrels and directing the process of sacar and rociar – extracting sherry from the solera for bottling and refreshing from the younger criaderas.
The Fino takes the most looking after, as it needs constant monitoring and care to ensure the flor can thrive. Tio Pepe is blended from 21 distinct soleras comprising a total 22,000 barrels, so looking after that is a huge job all by itself, let alone looking after all the other sherries in the bodega. Despite that, there’s usually time for some admin and planning in the day too, sorting out travel, thinking about and planning new products and launches.
Viva la #SherryRevolution
He may not be able to hide in the bodega any more, but when I ask Antonio what he enjoys most about his job these days, it’s clear that being a public face for sherry offers him a chance to do something he loves: helping in the effort to recover sherry’s image and market.
I want to help it recover for the young people, they’re the future and I don’t want them to inherit an industry with difficulties.
Hitting the road and promoting his wines gives him a buzz.
I love it when people start to enjoy and understand my wines, especially the complicated ones like Amontillado and Oloroso
I can’t quite remember if it was Antonio that coined the hashtag #SherryRevolution in the first place, but he’s definitely out there on the front line. And he’s well qualified for the job. As we’re finishing the interview and chatting over a glass his recently bottled Tio Pepe En Rama 2015, he points to the veins in his arm and laughs,
it’s not blood in here you know, it’s Tio Pepe!
I am very proud to be a guest blogger for the Sherry Wines website, where a version of this article was originally published. It is re-published here with some revisions, with the permission of the Consejo Regulador.