At the beginning of the 1990s Francisco Yuste Brioso started out in the world of wine as an almacenista. What began as a hobby soon became a major part of his business. As a distributor of Pepsi cola, along with Estrella Galicia beer, he adopted the Pepsi blue as his trademark colour, and it now appears on all the bodegas he has recuperated over the years. As a native of Sanlúcar he champions Manzanilla as an important part of the town’s heritage, and he has fiercely criticised various bodies which form part of the Denominación de Origen which, in his view, should be independent of Jerez. He currently owns some 10,000 butts, mostly Manzanilla destined for bulk sale to horeca. The damages caused by the Fedejerez prohibition of the bag in box (BIB) is one of the matters raised in this interview, as well as his exclusive revelation of the existence of an investor for an urban development project linked to Bodegas Argüeso in Calle Mar.
|Francisco Yuste in Bodega Miraflores (foto:Blanca Cores)|
The Feria in Sevilla has recently ended, one of the events where most Manzanilla is sold. Why did you decide not to participate?
We did participate. In fact there were some twenty casetas (out of over 1,000) with Manzanilla San León. But what we don’t do is slash the prices like some bodegas do, so the casetas go looking for a better price. The last time Argüeso participated we lost 18,000 euros, and we are not about losing money.
This price war, are you the only one resisting?
Various bodegas have taken the same decision. If someone likes San León, let them have it but at the normal price at which it is sold to horeca all year round. What we can’t do is give away samples, pay for hostesses and sell at silly prices. You can’t do that.
We are awaiting the Court’s ruling on BIB. What will it mean for the bodegas if they can’t sell wine in this container?
Not selling in BIB is a big problem. We sell a lot of wine in bulk, and are currently selling it in garrafas but the trade doesn’t like them. The judge who ordered the ban on BIB has no idea of the damage it is causing the small bodegas. It is totally unjust because the BIB is better for transport, is more hygienic and keeps the wine in good condition. And it is more economical.
You have put yourself forward, or have been put forward, as the defender of BIB yet you also defend the bottle and the quality it implies which is the Fedejerez argument…
Our bodegas are investing in bottling, in brand image and in creating more brands, but we also consider it stupid to be opposed to BIB. It is like opposing cars with round wheels. In a few years we will be laughing at this opposition to the BIB. What I don’t understand is how the BIB was banned after a plenary of the Consejo Regulador decided not to go against the report of the Junta’s Agriculture Department, and the big bodegas went to court without even sitting down to talk with most of the Manzanilla bodegas. In other parts of the world 50-60% of wines are being sold in BIB simply because it preserves the wine much better. In France, which is famous for quality and image, the figure is at least 38%. The reality is that there is only one gentleman stubbornly against BIB, but the rest of the big bodegas have to follow suit because they are selling in BIB.
Your business career as a bodeguero is characterised by your defence of Manzanilla. Do you believe that the interests of this unique wine from Sanlúcar are poorly represented?
Manzanilla is not represented in the Consejo Regulador. Of over 20 members, only one represents Manzanilla and he is manipulated by the other big bodegas, so that’s why this is happening to us. I think the Junta de Andalucía should take this into account when it produces the new Reglamento. It’s not normal that we sell more than 50% of the wine yet the big bodegas are better represented. We small bodegas of Sanlúcar are lucky to have Manzanilla, a unique authentic wine but not very well known. But when it is known there will be a shortage of wine to supply the market, and we will likely see that happen this year because some will have problems obtaining mosto since we are selling more and more which will lead to a shortage.
Last year Manzanilla was ahead in sales on the home market, but not abroad. What strategy is being adopted to conquer the export markets?
The Sherry they drink in the foreign markets is mostly Cream or Medium, not what we drink here. We sell Manzanilla and the big bodegas sell other wines to the export markets. In Spain we are already at 70-30 Manzanilla-Fino, which is enough. We have the home market but we can’t promote ourselves abroad because promotional funding is controlled by the Consejo Regulador which is the same as Fedejerez, so we can’t do anything. We sell wherever we can sell. Until the Government decides to do something we can’t do anything here. Outside Spain what is promoted is Sherry, not Manzanilla de Sanlúcar, so it is unknown in many markets.
Recently the wine journalist José Peñín visted Argüeso and he said in an interview that Sanlúcar needed its own DO and to separate itself from Jerez. Do you share his view?
If the big bodegas continue with what they are doing, Sanlúcar will have no choice but to create its own Consejo Regulador, after all we already have a DO Manzanilla-Sanlúcar Barrameda, although some bodegas choose to use the DO Jerez. We cannot be in the hands of the big bodegas; it is now a question for the competition authorities. They impose the laws and they control the Consejo, whose vice president is also president of Fedejerez; it is crazy how they have everything tied up. Finally, and I hope I am wrong, the competition authority will arrive and there will be new sanctions, which would be bad for the image. I have the impression that the Consejo is not independent, it should be keeping an eye on certain bodegas and saying what is Manzanilla and what is not. They are doing us damage bottling wines which don’t resemble Manzanilla, and if we had a Consejo in Sanlúcar, they would be unlikely to reach the market.
What do you mean saying it is not Manzanilla?
There are two wines: Manzanilla or Fino. Even in Sanlúcar there are some bodegas which make Fino. Manzanilla is a wine which has a permanent veil of flor, but in some bodegas the flor is not permanent, and there is some oxidation. That is the difference.
Do you mean to say that the controlling bodies are neglecting their duties?
As I see it the controlling bodies are used too much against us, against the small bodegas - and since this will be published I can expect three inspections. The BIB affair is a total injustice; we’ll see who pays for it because there will be damages and losses. I think the battle will be won sooner or later, but we’ll see who will pay for the damage it is doing to the small bodegas who are selling much less.
It will soon be a year since you bought Bodegas Argüeso. How do you assess this acquisition and the line of business you have undertaken?
Now I have got my teeth into it I would say that it is the best bodega in the area; one which has the least money but one which owes the least and is selling ever more. Sales are better than I had expected and so is the local demand for Argüeso. I am giving the bodega what it needs; a lot of care and a lot of wine, San León is what is selling, La E also…we are consistently selling more without cutting prices. We have solved many of the problems the bodega had since it had been without effective management for some ten years. The staff are helping a lot despite signing an agreement for a substantial reduction in salaries, as they are well aware that such salaries were unsustainable. Everyone is helping to ensure things go well.
You have also recuperated some brands which were at the point of disappearing like the Pedro Romero Punto Azul Brandy. Can you also recuperate the essence of these bodegas rather than a mere business transaction?
For me wine started as a hobby because it was such a shame to see bodegas closing. What I have done is to buy them and keep them. I am a great wine collector. I have been lucky enough to be able to recuperate the great wines these bodegas contained. Now we have the Amontillado Conde de Aldama, or the Pedro Romero brandies led by Punto Azul… and many other brands we have recuperated. Carbajo, Los 48, Pedro Romero, Sainz de Baranda… Now it can no longer be a hobby because we have some 10,000 butts and we have to start thinking like a wine business, and thus all the things we are doing.
The house you live in, a former bodega, won the prize for the best mansion house patio in the city…
(Laughs) Yes, yes, since 1989 when I bought Santa Ana I have been restoring some of the city’s patrimony, but of greater value is restoring jobs. Thanks to the Yuste companies 250 people are now working.
You were also talking about buying some bodega in Jerez. Is anything happening?
We are looking at Jerez because we also need to sell Fino, so we are looking there. Here we are concentrating on new products especially in the world of spirits with Limoncello, ponche, products which had lying been forgotten in the bodegas.
Any projects linked to wine tourism?
The most important wine tourism project in Sanlúcar at the moment is in Calle Mar. We want to put more value on the heritage of the XVI century convent there, creating a musem of the sea, of Manzanilla, it remains to be seen. Above all we want to conserve the panelled ceilings from 1540 which have been declared of cultural interest. We are looking at it with the town council and the Junta to see how we can restore the convent’s cloisters, a real treasure. Each beam there could easily be sold at Sothebys for a million euros. That is what needs to be restored and what I am doing with the bodega heritage of Sanlúcar. By selling wine you are selling history, and to sell it you need to preserve it. That costs a lot of money.
Are you discussing public finance?
We are trying to get public help but I don’t know what sort. In fact in Calle Mar there is a project which has been around for a while which has council and Junta approval and was championed by the former owners who seem to want to revive it. It is a nice project for a hotel there which respects all the bodega buildings. There are various companies, but one above all, which is trying to develop the project, and things are at an advanced stage for it to go ahead with private capital. Argüeso as owners of the site, will play their part but companies from elsewhere will do the work.
What do you think of the latest prizes your wines have won at CINVE?
The prizes and recognition we are receiving give us great pride and motivation to keep growing. The Argüeso San León, the Yuste Aurora and La Kika and of course the very old wines of Conde de Aldama and the Pedro Romero Punto Azul brandy are benchmarks for the highest quality in the DOs Manzanilla-Sanlúcar de Barrameda, Jerez-Xérès-Sherry and Brandy de Jerez. The best prize of all is to see how every day our client base is growing in Spain, and of course around the world, in countries like Australia, Mexico, Japan or the United States, and also in the more traditional markets like the United Kingdom.
This interview by Cristina Cruz was published 15/5/17 in andalucíainformación.es