Each week, as regular readers know, Terroirist poses 16 questions to a winemaker.
This week, we’re changing things up a bit. Rather than a winemaker, we’re featuring what you might call a “wine diplomat” — Felipe González-Gordon Terry, who lives in the United States representing the fifth generation of one of Spain’s most celebrated wine families, González Byass.
Gonzalez Byass can trace its roots to 1835, when Manuel Maria Gonzalez started making Sherry in Jerez. In 1844, Manuel Maria set up the original soleras for Tío Pepe (today’s best-selling Sherry in the world), and they’ve been running, uninterrupted, ever since.
And since then, the Gonzalez family’s wine operation has grown considerably. Today, the family owns wineries across Spain. In addition to the company’s historic operation in Jerez (where its cellars hold over 45 million liters of Sherry and Brandy de Jerez!), Gonzalez Byass has wineries in Rioja, Cava, Somontano, Castilla, and Cádiz.
Check out our interview with Felipe González-Gordon Terry below the fold…
Terroirist: What’s open in your kitchen right now?
Felipe: Three bottles: Tio Pepe Fino, Beronia Gran Reserva 2001, and La Miranda Garnacha Blanca.
How did you decide to pursue a career in wine?
It’s the family business. I needed a change from what I was doing (finance), and the opportunity came at the right time.
How did you learn to make wine?
Sadly, I don’t make wine yet! However, I judge it, drink it, and of course sell it.
How do you spend your days off?
I am very active (I run, cycle, and work out), and therefore spend a lot of energy. This translates into an enormous appetite, so I usually get together with friends after my races and we enjoy good food and good wine. I also enjoy reading, and more often than not I am a slave to my 15-year-old daughters. This I don’t mind because I travel a lot, so when I’m around I try to spend time them — even if its in the car to Sephora! Sometimes, I make them come to the wine shop with me — sweet revenge!
Who are your favorite winemakers in history?
Well, I don’t know a lot of winemakers by name beside the ones that work in my company, of course. And it wouldn’t be politically correct to single them out, because they all work with different terroir, variety and production methods.
What new winemakers are you most excited about, and why?
I prefer those winemakers that are honest. And by this, I mean winemakers that make honest wine, that take what the land gives them and make the wine with passion, inspiration, and dedication — wine makers that make wines for themselves, not for the critic or for the broad market.
What mailing lists, if any, do you purchase from?
I don’t, I find many wine shops with great assortments where I can make my purchases according to my mood. For me, buying wine is more impulsive that cerebral. So I don’t want my money tied in.
What’s the best wine you’ve ever tasted? The most interesting?
Fortified wines always fascinate me. May those be Banyuls, Sherries, Ports, Madeiras — I think some of the best wines, or the wines I have enjoyed the most, are in those categories. The versatility of those wines and the diversity blows me away.
What’s the oldest bottle in your cellar? The most expensive?
I don’t know about the most expensive; I rarely look at the price tag on a wine as a cue to purchase, but at the same time I don’t believe in buying super expensive wines. I’d rather buy five bottles for $30 each than one for $150. The oldest bottle I have is a 1964 vintage sherry from Gonzalez Byass.
If you had to pick one red and one white to drink for the next month with every dinner, what would you choose?
Tio Pepe Fino Sherry for white — I like the versatility of fino sherry, its dryness and character. And I never get tired of Tio Pepe. Every time I pour myself a glass, I find myself admitting with a note of surprise “I really like this stuff.” For red, Beronia Crianza Rioja. I like classic wines from classic wine regions. Good Rioja Crianza has acidity to accompany many meat dishes and even lighter meals; it has a good balance between fruit and oak and they are round and mellow to drink without food, too.
What’s the biggest challenge for a winemaker?
The biggest challenge is always finding the balance. Not only organoleptically in the wines you produce, but also stylistically — making wines that you like but that would appeal to others. On the business side, it’s pricing. Wines need to cover the costs of production and allow you to make a profit (we all have to make a living, right?) – they need to be attractive in their competitive set and market conditions.
What’s your favorite wine region in the world — other than your own?
This is a tough question for an oenophile, but let’s say I prefer old world more than new world for the most part, and the the cooler climates more than the warmer climates, but there are exceptions, of course!
Is beer ever better than wine?
Yes, often. After any wine tasting and after running a marathon!
What would people be surprised to know about you?
People would be surprised to know that I am a college drop out — twice!!!
For now, I’m profiling wines and working with the winemakers to achieve a style deserving to have my family name on it — and being more on the “business” side of the wine world. But my plan is to go back to school to get formal winemaking training, and spend more time among the vines and less on the road.
How do you define success?
Success is accomplishing what you set out to do. In my case, live a full, vibrant and exciting life.