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Manuel Lozano

 

 

When it comes to making still wines the grapes used in the winemaking process are a key factor and one of the elements which carries the most weight in the final result. In fact, winemakers generally say, off the record, that the best winemaker among them is he or she who manages to spoil the grapes the least. However, this is not the case with Sherry; not that the raw material is not important but in general Palomino Fino grapes grow perfectly well unaided, both in quantity and quality, in the ‘albariza’ soils of Cádiz, as does the Moscatel (Muscat) and Pedro Ximénez varieties in the sandy soils nearer the sea. 

 

In contrast, the unique approach to winemaking in the Sherry Triangle means that the complex ageing techniques and the art of ‘cabeceo’ (the coupage of various wines) are this region’s overriding key factors; factors which allow an impressively wide range of wines to be made from the musts of only a few grape varieties. In addition, the fact that Sherry is not usually a ‘single-vintage’ wine, but the result of a coupage of wines from various vintages, seems to confirm that the role played by the region’s winemakers is quite different from that usually associated with the role, and could even be considered as more important than that usually played in other regions.

 

Curiously, Spain boasts a number of ‘celebrity winemakers’ from its many wine regions, all of whom are very much in the media, with the exception of Jerez. There are also a number of great bodegas making great wines, whose technical directors are not particularly well-known by consumers or within the sector itself. But in a region such as Jerez, where many world famous wines are made – authentic gems of the wine world –, the winemakers behind them are hardly ever spoken about, not even by trade press. One of the reasons behind this might be because of the long ageing process associated with the wines, as both Sherry and Manzanilla are aged for three years in wine butts, old 550-litre American oak barrels, before being released on the market. And many ‘soleras’ (a group of butts containing the same wine) are easily over 30 years old. This is usually the reason why the content of the wine butts is not just the work of one single winemaker, but that of many professionals who over the years have taken part in its development.

 

At Bodegas Emilio Lustau, the team headed by Manuel Lozano Salado is responsible for ensuring that respect for the tradition of their predecessors and the character of the wine, which has won worldwide recognition, is maintained throughout the process. As the saying goes at the bodega: “The wine is created by nature: the work of the foreman is to make sure nature gets all the help it needs”.

 

Born in Jerez de la Frontera, Manuel Lozano became interested in wine from a very early age; his parents owned a restaurant where he began to familiarise himself with wines from different wine regions and especially with those from DO Jerez-Xérès-Sherry. Later on, after studying Viticulture and Oenology, he trained with Fernando Merello and Eleuterio Ferrera —“my most important maestros”, according to Lozano — at the Fernando A. de Terry bodega. After working at John Harveys, he started at Emilio Lustau in 1999. Currently he occupies the role of Oenologist and Production Manager for the vineyards and bodegas belonging to Grupo Caballero and is responsible for more than 22,000 wine butts and the over 40 wines, brandies, and vinegars made by the bodega in the three towns which form the Sherry Triangle, (Sanlúcar de Barrameda, El Puerto de Santa María and Jerez de la Frontera), managing a team of 16 individuals.

 

Lozano explained that: “The word ‘winemaker’ has never actually been used a lot in Jerez bodegas. In the past ‘General Foreman’ was the term used to describe the person responsible for the whole process, from the vineyard to bottling. It was only later that the sensory analysis carried out by the foreman was taken over by the laboratory, under the supervision of specialised technicians, without ever losing sight of traditional winemaking methods”. When asked if the wines made at Lustau are wines made by Manuel Lozano, the winemaker responded that: “The wine is not made exclusively by Manuel Lozano, but also involves the work carried out by my predecessors. Although I mix tradition with innovation without altering the styles, the categories or the properties of the wines, brandies and vinegars, I’m only trying to improve on a theme”.

 

And it seems quite obvious that he has achieved his goal. The wines made at Bodegas Emilio Lustau have recently won over a hundred awards and medals in the most prestigious competitions on the international scene. In addition, in 2011 the bodega won the Len Evans Trophy, which recognises winemakers with consistently excellent results. Manuel Lozano himself was also recognised as ‘Fortified Winemaker of the Year’ in the 2009, 2010 and 2011 editions of the International Wine Challenge

 

For Lozano the awards represent: “Both personal and professional satisfaction, because they certify almost 40 years worth of work, including many hours in the bodega, with the ‘venencia’ (the special long-handled ladle used to extract Sherry from wine butts) and the tasting glass, painstakingly attending to the wine”. “What’s more — he added — it’s an honour that the wines from Lustau are regarded as some of the best Sherries, fortified wines, and fortified liqueurs in the world. The way of working, the professional insight and the experience of our staff are generating excellent results”.

 

Yet Sherry has never been an easy wine to understand. And consumers, both in Spain and abroad, cannot be considered regular consumers of the product – with the exception, perhaps, of Fino and Manzanilla. Although these wine prove to be exceptional, depending on the category, for pairing with all types of food, Lozano admits that: “There is a wide range of categories and styles, from the very dry to the very sweet. Some are ideal with an aperitif, others with meats, fish or desserts; albeit, they are perhaps not the easiest of wines to understand. However there is increasingly more and better awareness about Sherries and I think we have to make more of an effort in this area, by providing more training and information, and taking our wines to the table”.

 

According to Manuel Lozano, “educating young people so that they acquire more wine culture” is one of the greatest challenges facing Sherry winemakers, together with “trying to adjust to the current trends in categories and properties, always within the norms set out by the Regulating Council”. Fortunately, and given the unique characteristics of the Sherry ageing process, climate change is still not a problem, although “it could be that it is only just starting to affect the vineyard”.

 

On a personal note, from among the many different types of Sherry, Manuel Lozano has a preference for Amontillado, “because it’s a wine which goes through two ageing processes, organic and oxidative; this wine boasts exceptional style and unique organoleptic characteristics. Although the most difficult wines to control in order to obtain a particular category and good homogenisation are organic aged wines, Finos and Manzanillas”. Apart from Sherry, his preferences lean towards the white wines made under Rueda, from the Verdejo grape variety, and the classic aged wines made under Rioja.

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