PRESS SECTION - Conde Nast - April 2011 - Spain



City Hotel, Seville, Spain



After showing me his family’s wineries, we went to his hotel on the outskirts of Jerez, on the road to Arcos. Located, quite near the motorcycle racecourse, two hectares conceal the charming family manor house. Built in 1890, it is a combination of a French mansion and an English garden. It is one of the two hotels belonging to Gonzalo del Río, who has turned Casa Viña de Alcántara into a very special place. Family photographs, high quality paintings done by his mother, period furniture. The ambience is perfect, as is the conversation with Gonzalo, who knows Jerez’ best stories and who has inherited a sense of fair play as British as his second surname, Gordon, and a joyfulness as contagious as the first, Del Río. Thus we spent the afternoon, and discovered why we didn’t want to leave Casa Viña de Alcántara.

Wandering through the streets of Jerez is not an option, it’s a must. There are places so narrow that even a cat has a hard time squeezing through them. There are as many churches and monuments as your energy and shoes will permit you to visit. The good thing is that dotted among them are many bars, where a fino, a palo or an oleroso awaits to be tasted. I enter a building, El Gallo Azul (The Blue Cockerels) in the Calle Larga, 2 and pass the Cruz Blanca (White Cross) , which is in Consistorio 16, on the corner of the Plaza de la Yerba, next to the Alcázar and the Cathedral. The wine industry has supported Jerez’ economy since the mid 19th century, when the first railway line connected Jerez to Puerto de Santa María and the area of the Trocadero, in Puerto Real. The trains took wineskins full of Jerez vintages to the nearest ports and from there they were exported to the rest of the world. The trade in wine had already been a business since the 15th century, when it was exported to England, France and the Netherlands by royal order. All of the ships travelling to America reserved a third of their cargo for wine. In 1587, when Francis Drake’s fleet attacked Cádiz and Jerez, he looted three thousand wineskins, hr took them to the English court and put Jerez on the emotional map of Great Britain’s subjects. It took more than a century for peaceful English wine makers to settle on Jerez lands. Here, renowned personalities made voyages of discovery. Among them was George Gordon Byron (more commonly known as Lord Byron) who, after having spent a delightful time in the home of winemaker Arthur Gordon Smith, a family member, said: I have enjoyed myself “at Xeres, where the sherry we drink is made…”. Paul Bowles, another tireless traveler, described, “the cool wine cellars of Jerez, where I was offered a Tío Pepe.” Even Aldous Huxley, driving his custom-built red Bugatti, to accommodate his legs, arrived in Jerez in 1929 and declared, “not even at my adored All Souls do we drink anything half as good as what we drink in the hotels and cafés of Jerez.”

Its wineries, with names such as Garvey, Duff Gordon, Osborne, and Wisdom & Warter, produced it here and shipped it there, making wines from Jerez so popular that in 1935 it became named “wine from Jerez/sherry”. All of this was explained to me by Gonzalo del Río González Gordon, winemaker, owner of two exquisite boutique hotels and a true gentleman. Holding a family seat on the board of the González Byass wineries—a city within a city—he invited me on a tour of them. Dark, fragrant rooms, cobbled streets that give way to furnished salons and period paintings. Groups of people passing me, looking at barrels signed by kings (our kings and princes in a place of honour), painters (Picasso), politicians (Churchill), Nobel prize-winners (Saramago), actors, film directors. More than a century of barrels have been signed, numbered, labelled, for posterity. Gonzalo explains to me that the Tío Pepe bottle is so emblematic that an annual award has been created for the best costume design. He also told me, while we were having a glass of wine and some tapas and regañás in the winery’s restaurant, that the cellars were founded in 1835 by Manuel María González Ángel, who formed a made the English wine producer, Robert Blake Byass, his partner some 20 years later, and that’s how the company producing some of the finest wines, such as Tío Pepe, Beronia, Matusalem, Apóstoles and Millenium, to name those I remember, came to be.. And if you want to visit the winery, follow Gonzalo’s advice, and visit the Real Bodega de la Concha,, which was designed by Gustave Eiffel in 1862.