Story of a Bottle…17 April 2017
Since the founding of our company and well into the 20th century, Ximénez-Spínola sold its Pedro Ximénez raisin wine in a “sherry cask for exportation”, or in other words: an oak barrel which holds 500 litres. In Jerez, chestnut casks were popular, they contained 700 or 750 litres and could always be found in bodegas. Chestnut is much more fragile than oak, which is stronger against the harsh journey to England, our main market. However, chestnut became increasingly unpopular as the chosen barrel-making wood with the deforestation in Spain during the civil war and in its aftermath. Nowadays you would very rarely come across it in barrel-making.
The manufacturers who made this type of product without bottles were called “almacenistas” or “wholesalers” in Jerez. Their wine was well-known as being high-quality because, instead of establishing their brand and making an impression by means of publicity and promotions to the final consumer, they simply depended on the quality of their products, to attract the wine importers in the strict Vintners’ Company in London. Broadly speaking, the Vintners’ Company was that which chose the sherry we know today.
That is why we, and many others, do not have labelled bottles. We do not consider having our own brand, nor do we attempt to be known by a nomenclature which goes beyond just a company name. Jerez was the land of winemakers, coopers, “arrumbadores”, foremen and entrepreneurs who were proud of their past. For us, being “Successors of Phelipe Antonio Zarzana Spínola” who established the old Maestranza Cavalry of Jerez was reason enough to not remove the company name. Our company name was the second surname of the “founder of our wine-producing activity”, who really must be credited for starting in this trade.
During the summer of 1894 when the phylloxera destroyed vineyards across Central Europe, French entrepreneur Antoine Vegier Jane, representing the glazier André Bocouze, presented his idea of making bottles of sherry in the Grand Hotel of Paris to a committee of british importers. The orders made by these importers to the area’s bodegas would make the project feasible. That same year plague had started to wreak havoc in Jerez, but the solera ageing process created by the manufacturers of the area guaranteed stability at a level which was unthinkable in other wine-producing regions.
The bottle-making factory La Jerezana was launched the following year and was in business for 114 years. Our house received requests to adopt a registered trademark, for wine labelled “inviting”, where many expressed the qualities of the product with two easy words for the british to pronounce. That is how the first Ximénez-Spínola came about, manufactured by the Successors of Phelipe Antonio Zarzana Spínola, who only made Pedro Ximénez. This was as simple as it was practical… Perhaps two words are not enough for something so romantic. The label was printed only in black ink- the company name was written in bold which clearly stood out from the rest of the text. However, the parts surrounding the name were filled with history, methods and values, which are still discussed- particularly over the authorship of Peter Siemens in the first vineyards. Despite being subject to ampelographic debate, we have rejected forging over the years. The most nonsensical part is that this label which was written in spanish for an english-speaking market wanted to summarise an entire family tradition in two memorable words. For a spaniard, two words simply provide an introduction, but they will never be able to fully portray what lies behind their meaning.
The black bottles designed in Jerez made way for broad-based transparent glass made in France. However, with some changes and improvements, nowadays our label is essentially the same. Its content has not changed and although unfortunately the glass manufacturing company which inspired it no longer exists, our bottle will not undergo any more changes as long as we have the strength and means to prevent it. At this point in time, it is important to value the little things.