Although the makers of Sherry wines are kings in this part of the country, I recently had the very interesting experience of coming across a “rebel” winemaker. I had the tremendous fortune of going on a personalized tour of the Luis Pérez winery in the rolling hills outside of Jerez de la Frontera, accompanied by one of the winery´s owners, Mr. Guillermo Pérez. I am not sure where to begin to tell you about this experience, since I was equally impressed with this young man as I was with the winery.
A small group of bloggers and wine enthusiasts, assembled by Discover Sherry, had arranged a meeting with Mr. Pérez (whom we now call “Willie”) to tour the Hacienda Vistahermosa which is the heart and soul of the Luis Pérez Bodega. Curiously, but true to his enthusiastic and dynamic personality, Willie notified us that we had to start our tour at an earlier time since it would be impossible to appreciate the winery without first seeing the vineyards from where the grapes are grown and from which the wine is made. Accordingly, before going to the Hacienda Vista Hermosa, we met Willie at an agreed spot and we followed him on some narrow and muddy roads to a vineyard called El Corregidor. Its main building stands high on a hill overlooking the surrounding countryside. At one time, a “corregidor,” was the representative of the reigning monarchy whose responsibility was to serve administrative and judicial functions for a defined area. The offices were abolished in 1833. The building and the land surrounding it were later sold and utilized by different wineries to produce and process grapes.
At “El Corregidor” we were able to observe the bare rootstock of the vines, and received an eye-opening explanation of how the rolling hills, the age of the vine rootstock, the “stress” the vines underwent due to the soil makeup and the weather conditions, would all affect the makeup of the wine that would be produced with a particular year´s harvest. It is what the French call the “terroir,” (i.e. the many and unique factors which make up the land and which, in turn, affect a vineyard´s wine production and quality).
Upon entering the building, which is at least 200 years old, we were able to observe wine presses of the type where we could envision spiked-shoed, grape smashers stomping on the harvested grapes into what is known as the first pressing. That normally yields the best “mosto” (juice) of that year´s harvest and is the liquid from which all local wines claim their provenance.
It was a cold, windy, and occasionally rainy day. But, neither of those factors made a difference when we looked out upon the surrounding area which is covered by vineyards and old haciendas. Every once in a while, there would be a break in the clouds and for a fleeting moment we were treated with what seemed to be the product of a painter´s eye as he captured the peaceful and beautiful scene on his canvas. I continue to be amazed with the amazing beauty that surrounds us. I know that I have said this before, but it really does remind me of the Napa Valley in Northern California.
From there, it was a short drive to the Hacienda Vistahermosa which, much to Willie´s displeasure includes a view marred by a large, garish, yellow and blue sign which overly-identifies the location of a well-known Swedish furniture store. It was easy, however, to ignore that insult to our sensibilities, since the rest of the view was breathtaking. This view is, curiously, best appreciated from a large and very modern structure which is surrounded by glass walls. The building, which is often the site of celebrations and weddings, actually houses an underground area where the barrels of wine are filled and stored. The entire Hacienda covers 25 Hectares (@62 acres) of land, and contains a restored Country House, with a wine press, which date back to 1844.
Before running out of space, I need to now turn to why I was so impressed with “Willie the Rebel.” (my words) The hills surrounding Jerez have been host to wine-production for no less than 3,000 years. From the Phoenicians, to the Romans, to the Moors, this part of Spain has been the ideal spot to grow grape vines and, as a result, to produce wine. The production of Sherry wines is a relatively recent activity, dating back approximately 100 years. There is no doubt that the Sherry wines produced exclusively in this area are fantastic and are known worldwide. But, therein is where Mr. Pérez marches to a different drumbeat. He is an innovator and a thinker. He is one of the first winemakers in the area that has asked “Why not?” when considering the production of red wines instead of the standard Sherry wines. He began by creating three red wines – Garum, Samaruco, and Petit Verdot that are produced from different varieties of grapes than those that are normally grown here. Once the market for those wines was established, and those wines met with a resounding success, he began an amazing project which involved the undersea aging of one of his wines. The project consists of wrapping ordinary bottles of wine in the clay which is similar to that which was utilized to create Roman amphorae, and to lay them in a protected location on the seafloor. Willie explained to us that the temperature is ideal there since it remains constant and that the hermetically-sealed wine is protected from other factors which otherwise might damage a wine. The wine is retrieved in what first appears to be an aged Roman wine vessel and which, upon removing the outer clay layer, reveals the wine that he has been specially produced for this project.
Another of Willie´s innovative projects, is the creation of a unique “Vineyard Museum” which consists of several parcels of land dedicated to the growing of as many different grape varieties as the space will allow. These vines often serve as living exhibits for the many school children that come and visit the “museum” every year and who learn about the wonders of an industry which is, literally, “as old as the hills” here. Curiously, these parcels of land were once a slope that was being damaged by erosion. It took the eyes of an artist and the mind of an inventor to see what Willie saw. There is so much more that I could talk about regarding the history of this winery and the persons that have worked very hard to create it. Willie´s close relatives are all involved in the business, and his father´s and grandfather´s stories are both worth writing books about.
At this point, I can only say that there is no doubt in my mind that Willie and his family will succeed in whatever endeavor they undertake. There is nothing wrong with thinking “outside of the box” and sometimes it takes persons like Willie to ask “why not?” in order to change their small part of the world.
If you would like to learn more about the Luis Pérez Bodegas, their products, or even arrange a visit, you can go to their website: http://www.bodegaluisperez.com
This article was previously published in Coastline, Rota Naval Base Newspaper.