Bodega Gonzáles-Byass, located in the center of Jerez de la Frontera, was established in 1835 by Manuel María González Angel and Robert Blake Byass – and the company is still run by the Gonzalez family. It is today one of Spain's most well-known sherry bodegas, and they own the famous Tío Pepe brand.
The visit starts with a guided tour of the bodega; watch a short film about the history of Bodega Gonzáles-Byass, walk through the cellars with rows of barrels (some with signatures of celebrities who had visited the bodega over the years), and learn how the sherries and brandies are made. The tour of the bodega is followed by a tasting, and we also had a tapas menu with a few dishes. Of course you can also buy the sherries and brandies in the bodega shop...
If you like sherry or indeed like free tastings of alcohol then Jerez will float your boat. There are sherry bodegas all over the place from huge places to small shop like operations. It's fun just to watch the spectacle of everyone lunging forward for a free taste. Not my favourite tipple but hey ho....IT'S FREE
I thought this was a rip-off, especially the so-called “tapas” at the end, but it might be better in summer. (This was December. There were only three of us.) The man who showed us round hardly seemed to try to hide his lack of interest, or that he was reciting exactly what he’d recited and showing what he'd shown (thing with mouse, signatures - giving each group time to discover some famous names) over and over again to other groups before. There’s a huge pavilion at the end, with lines of hundreds and hundreds of tables waiting for people who've paid for (over-priced) sherry and “tapas”, then a souvenir shop as big as a supermarket.
For 15 euros per person we had a two hour informative tour of the Tio Pepe bodegas, and a tapas, sherry and brandy tasting. You can pay less, if you just want the tour and sherry tasting.
Our female guide was very knowledgeable about the world sherry and brandy business and the Jerez legacy of grape harvesting.
Grape cultivation in Jerez dates back to the Roman era. But the Tio Pepe bodega was founded in Jerez in 1835. It is so vast that part of the tour is by a motorised open-air train with shaded seating. Their cellars hold over 45 million litres of Sherry and Brandy de Jerez.
At the end of the tour we tasted:
Amontillado, Manzanilla and Oloroso sherry and a Brandy de Jerez Solera.
There are four main types of sherry produced:
Fino - a pale a delicate sherry,
Amotillado which is an older, richer version of the Fino variety,
Oloroso is a rich, dark mahogany coloured wine
Cream sherry is a blend of Oloroso and the Pedro Jimenez grape and has a sweet finish to compliment its rich flavour.
Brandy de Jerez Solera must age for a minimum of six months, Reserva for one year and Gran Reserva for a minimum of three years.
When I expressed to the guide that I had never found a brandy that I liked, she took us to the Brandy tasting room and gave us a measure of Lepanto P X. Wow was I impressed, my throat wasn't on fire! Just a beautiful full bodied flavour, with a kick. I immediately bought a bottle from their shop (29 euros).
It is aged for 12 years in American oak barrels, and then aged for a final 3 in sherry barrels. Whilst the brandy has its own unique personality, it also integrates the sherry's flavorful character. It is Distilled from 100% Palomino grapes.
Some tours are in English, Spanish or German. Parts of the bodega can also be booked for conferences and weddings!
Spain is the third largest wine producing nation in the world. The John Harvey Winery in Jerez, established in 1796, is famous for its sherry, and one that British people all know as a Christmas drink, Harvey's Bristol Cream.
When taking this tour the guide explains the process of making and ageing Harvey's sherries in one of their historical cellars along Calle Arcos where the world famous Bristol Cream brand was born.
The tour culminates in the tasting of Harveys Bristol Cream in the 19th century Don Ramiro patio.
The Gonzales Byass Bodega has even more than "just" the sherry, they also have ADVERTISING...even the weathervane carries the logo of the Tio Pepe brandname.
I enjoyed the old wine bottles that they have preserved, looks like an old apartment I used to rent in Chicago...
The two old bicycles in the last photos were on display, but have NO idea why, there was no explantion plaque and our guide did not even pause here.....so your guess is as good as mine.
After we finished our tour of the winery and distillery, we were escorted into the tasting area where we were served several types of the sherry. One small 500ml bottle was given to us and another glass of a more expensive type was poured for us. We also opted for the addition of a TAPAS serving with our sherry. This made for a nice interlude after our tour and before we hit the streets of Jerez again. After you finish your drink and food here you can enter the shop where you can purchase all sorts of products with the company logo of the Tio Pepe....We also found to our surprise bottles of sherry with a Kosher label.
Here at the Gonzales Byass Bodega they have a custom of having barrels autographed by visiting personalities. Some, are of the Gonzales family, owners of the facility. Others are dedicated to the Spanish royal family, like this one of Juan Carlos I and autographed by him, or at least what is written on the barrel is an accurate copy of his autograph. Others that we found were Stephen Spielberg, Orsen Welles, Winston Churchill and many others. The last photo shows how the barrels are labeled. A pity we did not have more free time to wander in this area to find more who's who barrels.
The next leg of our tour took us into the old brandy distillery where they had preserved some of the old stills. Actually they had been in use till only about 20 years ago if I remember our guides explanations correctly. She spoke English very well, but spoke at the speed of a Spanish machine gun, if your attention failed even for a moment you were in trouble trying to "catch up" with her. What was important with the guide was that she gave us much factual information, but presented it in an entertaining way which does tend to capture your attention. A fairly long tour of over an hour seemed very short in actuality. Here in the old distillery she showed us the full range of brandies as you can see on the table, they ranged from raw new brandy to that beautiful amber color of aged barrel brandy.
Gonzalez Byass Bodega, Spain...that will just about say it all for any Spaniard. Located in Jerez de la Frontera (not far from Cadiz) they produce
SHERRY WINES (Finos, Manzanillas, Olorosos, Amontillados, Pedro Ximénez)
OTHER WINES (Rioja Wines, La Mancha Wines, Cava, Chile Wines)
BRANDIES FROM JEREZ
FRUIT AND CREAM LIQUEURS
OLIVE OIL AND VINEGAR
But their most famous is the Tio Pepe label.
What better place to begin a tour that will end with wine tasting (Sherry in this case) than in the gardens that surround the production facility. The tour guide loads you and your group onto a small train comrised of the locomotive and three cars. Then you procedd from the entrance garden through several larger gardens, all within the confines of the production facility located in the center of the city of Jerez de la Frontera.
You also pass by a small growing area for regional grapes, but we were informed that these grapes were NOT used in the wine making.
If you come to Jerez then the number one thing to do here as to be to go and visit one of the many wine Bodegas (cellars).
Jerez is the home to sherry, Vino Fino and Brandy and many world known brands come from here such as Harvey's Bristol Cream or 501 Brandy.
In fact the name Jerez means sherry, the Muslims called the town Scheris and that is where we got sherry and the Spanish got Jerez (pronounced herez) from. Jerez was once written Xerez (still present in the name of the football team), therefore was probably pronounced shere(z), the last sound is optional as the locals never pronounce z or s at the end of their words.
Fino is a drink only really famous here in the province of Cadiz, it is like a very sweet white wine. It's taste is not for all, although in the Feria (a local festival) no one will say no to a jug of Rebujito (fino and clear lemonade or bubbly water).
Some of the biggest Bodegas in the area are: Garvey (www.grupogarvey.com), Harveys (www.bodegasharveys.com), Domecq (www.alvarodomecq.com) or of course Tio Pepe.
As you can see a lot of the names sound British and in fact they are. They were traditionally founded or run by Brits. They do all, however, give tours in English, French, German and lots more Languages sometimes including Swedish and Chinese.
Tio Pepe is probably the biggest name in Jerez. The Tio Pepe (Uncle Pepe) bodega can be found at:
Manual Maria Gonzalez, 12 you can also reserve your tour emailing them on firstname.lastname@example.org. If you'd like more information about prices and opening times go to www.bodegastiopepe.com
There are plenty of sherry tours to choose from, but I'd definitely recommend the Gonzalez Byass one, it was a fantastic afternoon out. I think that the walk is around 15 minutes from the train station, but we got lost as there are very few road signs, and had to run to catch the start of the afternoon tour!
You can have the tour with tapas at the end, or without. Having food costs a tiny bit more. We were glad we chose to have tapa, as although the food's basic (cheese, crisps etc), having it seemed to mean that we got more sherry to taste!
The factory's really big, so you're transported round on a little motorised train with a multilingual guide; the train stops around the factory. On the day I went it was busy, so speakers of different languages were split into different trains, meaning everyone got a guide they could understand, and there weren't too many people in each party.
The Tour includes: a tour through the vineyards by train, Brandy Route, Barrel-making (sometimes demonstrations, but I didn't see one), Distilling (this was actually really interesting), Wine Route, a video about the factory's history, the happy mice of Jerez (the factory's mice are fed sherry & tapas! But they hide in the heat of midsummer), Wine Tasting (and lots of it!) and the giftshop. Our guide was funny, spoke excellent english, knew everything, and couldn't do enough for us - and we were there for at least 3 hours.
We loved the tour but we especially liked the tasting! The gift shop is good too (not least because there's another opportunity to sample brandies and wines! there are also some great gifts).
Tip: Unless you're planning to buy really posh alcohol (they had some amazing brandies), it's worth getting sherry etc at a supermarket where it's a bit cheaper.
Tip 2: You can only buy branded produce (glasses, shirts etc) from Gonzalez Byass themselves, which used to mean buying them at the gift shop on the tour, but they've opened a shop online - worth checking they'll deliver to your country though.
We spent an afternoon going round this Bodega famous for Tio Pepe and found it very interesting, even if sherry is not your thing. There is a video showing the history and the process (solera) of how it is produced, followed by a guided tour and tasting. Also even the residence mice like to taste the sherry (see pic), at the end you can have tapas and sherry (fino) to wash it down with depending what ticket you buy. Be careful how much you drink though this stuff creeps up on you!!
Real Sherry is only made in Jerez. It is a trade that has been established here for generations and has brought wealth to the town. The wine, from the Palomino grape, is made from small low growing vines which do well out in the chalky dry hills of this part of Andalucia.
A visit to a bodega is interesting, fun, something different and you will be given a tasting at the end of the tour. One of the bodegas is so large that visitors are transported in a small train, and others are much smaller. Our map of Jerez listed 17 Bodegas, almost all of which have web sites for more details. The bigger companies will run regular guided tours that do not need advance booking, whereas some of the smaller ones may only be visited by appointment.
Just some are, in no particular order, Bodegas Williams & Humbert, Grupo Garvey, Lustau, Sandeman, Pedro Domecq, Gonzalez & Byass, Sanchez Romate and Dios Baco.
Many bodegas are within easy walking distance of the town centre.