Producer’s profile: Gonzalez Byass

GonzalezByass

Gonzalez Byass traces its roots to 1835, when Manuel María González Angel, at the time still 23 years old, purchased a bodega in Jerez and became a sherry shipper. He started exporting wine to England with the help of Juan Bautista Dubosc and Francisco Gutierrez de Aguera, supported by their London agent Robert Blake Byass. From shipper to producer the distance is short and in 1844 the company acquired its first vines (today the company holds 650 hectares of vineyards and it is the biggest sherry producer). In 1849 famous Tío Pepe fino brand, named after the founder’s uncle, was born and in 1855 Robert Blake Byass became a shareholder in the company (though we will have to wait 1863 to see the birth of Gonzalez & Byass, renamed Gonzalez Byass & Co. 7 years later). For over than a century the two families jointly remained at the helm of the enterprise, until in 1988 Robert Byass heirs sold their share, leaving the firm in the hand of the Gonzalez family.

Gonzalez Byass is a legend and the life of its founder is especially entertaining: the shipwreck of his cargo of potatoes (retrieved thanks to his mother’s wit) in the early years, Manuel’s love for Victorina de Soto, the visit of Queen Isabella II and the birth of El Cristo blend. In the fifth chapter of his book “Sherry”, Julian Jeffs reports these episodes and more, making a very pleasant reading.

Today the company holds a vast portfolio not limited to Jerez: Beronia in the Rioja (and Rueda), Viñas del Vero in Somontano (just south of the Pyrenees), Villarnau in Penedes (the “sparkling arm” of the firm), Finca Moncloa near Cadiz (focused on still wines), Finca Constancia not far from Madrid (D.O. Terra de Castilla, concentrating more on daily wines). Two brandies (Lepanto and Soberano) are also produced in Jerez. All in all a well balanced group with a presence in many of today interesting Spain wine regions. Gonzalez Byass is also directly involved in the distribution, particularly in the UK and the USA, with a portfolio including also Champagne Deutz, Undurraga and Quinta do Noval. 

But the nucleus of Gonzalez Byass rest in its Tío Pepe brand which of course is not limited to fino production, but holds a full lineup of different sherries, traditional and modern. One of the most interesting is Tío Pepe en Rama which basically is an unfined and unfiltered Sherry fino, bottled straight from the cask. The category had been pioneered by Barbadillo in 1999, but Gonzalez Byass was one of the firsts to follow in 2010: Tío Pepe en Rama was first made in small quantity, but it got good reviews (here the words of Tim Atkin) and attracted market interest, so much that in 2011 production was doubled and this year the wine is going through its sixth release.

As is often the case with companies of such magnitude, the focus of Gonzalez Byass lies in the export market: in a recent article Harpers reports that exports in 2014 represented 66% of its business, an impressive increase from the already high 53% of two years ago. In the words of chairman Mauricio González-Gordon, the firm is concentrating especially on US, UK and Mexico key market, though brands are exported in many countries (let’s not forget Japan, where Mercian, owned by Kirin, retains a tiny portion of Gonzalez Byass share). The challenges that have arisen in late years for sherries and other fortified wines (overall declining in volume if not in value) have been faced with a brand diversification strategy: still and sparkling wines, spirits, direct involvement in distribution, even the sale of sherry casks for whiskey production. While CEO Jorge Grosse declared optimism towards a recovery of sherry (which we all hope), the direction of company seems to be one of expansion in different markets, gin being one of the most closely watched.

From what we see this policy is bearing its fruit: the company enjoys good health, with a 63% rise in net profit in 2014.

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