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Published on August 7th, 2014 | by Ruben

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Almacenistas

It is a common misconception that sherry bodegas produce their wine entirely, from the grape to the bottled product. Some of the larger ones do, but for the majority this is not the case – historically three major types of companies have been involved: vineyards (nowadays mostly large cooperatives), maturation bodegas (which turn young wine into mature wine) and bottlers / shippers (the ones who put their name on the label).

During the last few decades, the larger bodegas (the names we all know) have usually been maturation bodegas and shipping bodegas at the same time, but the category of bodegas that focus exclusively on maturation still exists: the almacenistas.

Strictly translated, the Spanish word almacenista means warehousekeeper or wholesaler. Almacenistas are usually small family businesses: they buy young base wines (or produce these wines themselves) and mature them in soleras for several years. Once (semi-)mature, they are sold on to larger houses where they are blended into commercialized products or incorporated into other, larger soleras for further maturation. The whole process is quite anonymous and the consumer rarely knows that an almacenista was involved in the production of a certain wine.

The D.O. Jerez-Xérès-Sherry defines the difference between an expedition license and a warehousing license. With the latter, an almacenista can’t export his wines or sell them directly to consumers. At least not in a bottled form – some almacenistas were also running a tabanco as an outlet for their wines. A good example that still exists is Tabanco Obregón in El Puerto de Santa María.

The main advantages of working with almacenistas were diversity and flexibility. Every solera, every bodega has its own identity, and adding external wines to blends gives you a larger palette of possible flavours and ages, without having to invest directly in the maintenance of these small soleras. For shipping bodegas it’s also a flexible way of coping with fluctuations in capacity and sales volumes. On the side of the almacenista, the risk involved was rather low, as most of them did this as a hobby and made a living from other activities.

 

Decline of almacenistas

The almacenista trade has suffered a lot from the general decline in sherry sales. Larger houses had enough stocks to provide the necessary wines without having to turn to almacenistas. On the other hand, grape producers (especially the larger cooperatives) also started to produce fermented base wines and supplied them directly to larger bodegas. Add to this increasing optimization and large-scale harmonization which caused the smallest almacenistas to close, and you get a significant downward evolution. At the beginning of the 1990s, the number of almacenistas had dropped significantly. There once were over 50 almacenistas in the Jerez area, now there are less than twenty.

The Consejo Regulador tried to overcome this problem by lowering the minimum amount of stock for getting a shipping license. Before 1996, a bodega had to maintain at least 12.500 hectoliters in its cellars to qualify as a shipping bodega. This was reduced to a mere 500 hectoliters, which made it easier for almacenista bodegas to start selling under their own name. It may have had a positive effect, with the start of several ’boutique’ bodegas like Bodegas Tradición, El Maestro Sierra or Fernando de Castilla), but not enough to stop the downward trend for almacenistas. Sooner or later I’m afraid nearly all almacenistas will be gone from the sherry trade – they will either stop or start shipping themselves.

 

 

lustau-almacenista-series

 

Lustau Almacenista series

Bodegas Lustau were founded in 1896 and Emilio Lustau started as one of these anonymous almacenistas. Later his company grew to become a major expedition bodega, and in 1981 they decided to pay homage to their origins and to the craftmanship of almacenistas by launching a series of highly individual sherries called ‘Almacenista’ (a name they’ve now copyrighted). All wines in this series are bought from external producers, and what’s more, the name of the producer is mentioned on the label. Lustau was the first to put the spotlight on the quality of these small-scale wines, in a way that comes close to ‘independent bottlers’ in the world of whisky. It’s also an early form of what Equipo Navazos started a couple of years ago.

Since 1981, Lustau has bottled sherries from more than 20 almacenistas in this series. Some releases have been very limited, others are almost constantly available. One of the most popular wines is the Oloroso ‘Pata de Gallina’ produced by Juan Garcia Jarana (pictured above).

 

Some of the best known almacenistas

In 2013 the Consejo Regulador listed 19 almacenistas within the D.O. Jerez-Xérès-Sherry. These are some of the better known names:

  • Cayetano del Pino
  • Josefa Perez Rosado
  • Manuel Cuevas Jurado
  • Bodegas Vides
  • Bodegas Obregón
  • Juan Garcia Jarana

Also let’s not forget a couple of renowned houses that started as almacenistas but evolved to shipping bodegas, like Pilar Aranda, who used to sell wine to Gonzalez-Byass and Lustau. The bodega has been taken over by Álvaro Domecq after the death of Doña Pilar and now has its own shipping license. Another good example is Bodegas El Maestro Sierra, who used to sell their wines to Lustau as well but are now a brand on their own.

 

 

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About the Author

fell in love with sherry fifteen years ago, but switched to a higher gear in 2013 and started writing about it. Lived in Madrid for a couple of years, now back in Belgium. I also run a whisky blog over at www.whiskynotes.be



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  • Angeliki Tsioli

    Hi and congratulations for the website! One comment about the required minimum stocks of the shipping and stocking bodegas. In the regulation of 2011, it is stated that the minimum limit for shipping ones is set to 2,500 hl and for the stocking ones to 500hl. Apparently, you confused the info? Check it also yourself, cheers from Germany 🙂

    • From an article by Sarah Jane Evans MW: “Until the mid 1990s a bodega had to hold a minimum stock of 12,500 hectolitres of Sherry to get a license to bottle/ship/sell. In 1996, this minimum was reduced to 500 hl. At last, the almacenistas could start to bottle and ship under their own labels.” http://www.sherry.wine/media-trade/news/fall-and-rise-almacenistas I would have to look up whether this was changed again in 2011, but I was only talking about 1996, the year in which many small houses made the switch to bottling on their own. 2011 was less of a tipping point in that respect.

      • Angeliki Tsioli

        Thank you! It must then be that the regulation followed and supported this point/approach. I link the pdf of the regulation (in spanish), where I read about the limits for the shipping and the stocking wineries. It was also wrong in the OCW (online version, until now) and I suggested them to update it, since it is interesting as a move to support smaller size producers:
        http://www.sherry.wine/sites/default/files/pliego_de_condiciones_de_la_do_jerez-xeres-sherry.pdf
        This means that today, in order to be able to ship sherry, one needs a minimum of 2,500 hl in stock, but one can stock less (500 hl) if he is not selling it to the consumers.
        Great job indeed your site 😉

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