Born in Jerez in 1923 and now in his early nineties, Antonio left school at only nine years old and helped out in his father’s despacho de vinos, “Los Palitos” in the Calle Sevilla. Being so young he needed to stand on a wooden crate to reach the sink to wash glasses, but over time he quickly learned about the bodega business. Aged 23 he married Josefa Morilla Nuño and they had two sons and seven daughters during a very happy marriage which lasted 54 years till Josefa’s death in 2000.
After leaving his father’s business Antonio continued working in bars, first as an employee and later as the owner. His enterprising spirit saw him work also as a broker for all sorts of bodega-related businesses, and he travelled all round Spain on a Vespa scooter offering products such as parcels of wine or wine barrels. It was not long before he set up his own cooperage business, but at first this was very hard as it was difficult to finance the raw materials. By the end of the 1940s into the early 1950s however, he was already selling small numbers of barrels to various bodegas in the Rioja. Now the firm, Tonelería Páez Lobato, has all the best equipment and a prestigious list of clients including famous bodegas in various parts of Spain and distilleries in Scotland, Ireland, the USA and Japan.
|The cooperage trademark|
The “Vinegar King”
In 1945 he foresaw a commercial future for vinegar and embarked on another venture, Bodegas Páez Morilla. Buying parcels of vinegar from bodegas and putting them in a special vinegar solera. Some of these parcels were young and some very old. At the time vinegar was seen as just another product but Antonio felt that Jerez vinegar had the potential to be great since it was made from a base of Sherry. At the tender age of 22 he started to promote Vinagre de Jerez to anyone who would listen, gradually converting it into a product of exceptional quality and highly appreciated in international cuisine. Thanks to his efforts, most Sherry bodegas now offer their own Sherry Vinegar and a Denominación de Origen Vinagre de Jerez was established in 1994 with its own Consejo Regulador. Antonio was soon nicknamed “The Vinegar King”, and the firm now offers a range of top quality vinegars and Doña Pepa vinegar-based balsamic sauces.
|One of the vinegar soleras|
The table Wine
In 1976 he acquired a vineyard called Viña La Vicaria near Arcos with the idea of producing table wine, a product which would not have to compete with the established Sherry firms. The white wine he produced was launched in 1981 under the brand name Tierra Blanca, and a red wine soon followed called Viña Lucía. These were among the first bottled table wines from Cádiz, and though they were viewed with scepticism by the Sherry bodegas, most now offer table wines as well – and they too now have a Denominación de Origen: Vino de la Tierra de Cádiz, established in 2005.
|A view of some of the vineyard|
It was perhaps inevitable that Páez Morilla would enter the world of Sherry, and in 1992 Antonio's son Jose purchased the three surviving bodegas which once formed part of the complex of twelve owned by Palomino and Vergara. These used to be known as the “Apostles” since Christ had twelve disciples. The bodega is called Dios Baco after the statue on the apex of the roof, and was constructed in 1848. A range of very high quality Sherries is produced here, and there is also a despacho de vinos.Over the course of a long, productive, visionary and successful life Antonio has earned the love and respect of all who know him. He has an affable nature and as he sees it there are no people he doesn’t know; only friends he has not yet met. For as long as he is able he intends to go to the bodega every day. For his 90th birthday his family baked him a cake in the shape of a large vinegar bottle. In 2015, in recognition of his achievements, the City Council of Jerez dedicated a roundabout on the Avenida Reina Sofía to him, only the second bodeguero to receive this honour. The first went to Pepe Estévez.
|Antonio with the mayor at the inauguration of his roundabout|