Friday, August 6, 2010

History of Sherry: 20th Century to Present (Part 5)

--20th Century to Present

Despite the enormity of the problems at the end of the 19th century, the sherry industry still eventually found a way to rebound from its lowest point, showing its tenacity despite great adversity. In 1910, some leading sherry sippers came together and founded the Sherry Shippers’ Association, pooling their resources to launch an advertising campaign for sherry. Rather than promote their individual products, they chose to promote sherry in general. They were largely successful, helping to restore sherry exports to a very respectable level.

In 1933, the Spanish National Law on Wine would establish the first Spanish Denomination of Origin: Jerez. This also led to the creation of an official instrument for industry representation: the Consejo Regulador. These were good years for sherry. For example, during the 1930s in England, sherry parties became very popular and they continued to be for at least the next 20 years.

During the 1960s, Rumasa, a private Spanish conglomerate owned by Jose Maria Ruiz-Mateos purchased control of numerous sherry bodegas. At one point, Rumasa owned or controlled at least 35% of all of the sherry bodegas. A very positive result of Rumasa’s control was that they modernized the bodegas, making the bodegas more profitable, but on a negative note, Rumasa also interfered with the industry, trying to gain greater control.

Between 1944 and 1979, sherry exports shot up significantly, from about 3.6 million gallons to almost 40 million gallons. To cope with this vast demand, the bodegas ended up doubling their acreage from 28,000 acres in 1970 to 56,000 acres in 1980. But, as usual, that success was not to last. As the 1980s began, the demand for sherry started to diminish and exports eventually fell by 50%, stabilizing for a short time in the mid-1990s.

In 1982, Rumasa was thought to constitute about 2% of the Spanish GDP, obviously have a powerful effect on the economy. Rumasa was comprised of around 700 different businesses with 65,000 employees. But it all came crashing down in 1983 when the socialist Spanish government decide to expropriate Rumasa, alleging they had failed to pay millions of dollars in taxes to the national treasury and were nearly bankrupt. This obviously contributed in part to the decline in the sherry industry.

When Rumasa was broken up, the bodegas banded together to help each other survive. They worked out plans to reduce vineyard acreage, established minimum prices and set quotas of each bodega's production that could be sold. Eventually, all of the sherry bodegas were returned to private ownership. It definitely was not easy and by 1996, exports were just under 21.1 million gallons, about half what they were in 1979. Despite all efforts, the decline started once again, so that by 2001, sherry exports had decreased to just over 15 million gallons.

In the present, we have the most complete sherry statistics for 2009. In 2009, the United Kingdom was still the number one importer of sherry, importing about 3.7 million gallons. Holland was in second place, importing about 2.3 million gallons, while Germany was in third, importing about 1.2 million gallons. The United States was in fourth place, importing about 423,000 gallons.

What is most interesting is that sherry imports to the U.S, in the first quarter of 2009, were up 50% over the similar period in 2008. Maybe the U.S. has started embracing sherry once more. It is also interesting to consider that U.S. imports of sherry are still less than half the amount of Saké imports, which are about 1 million gallons. So Saké, which is still a very niche beverage, is more popular in the U.S. than sherry.

It is also intriguing to consider the 2009 statistics on the varieties of sherry that are most popular in each of the four above-mentioned countries. For England, about 42% of their imports are Cream sherry with another 24% being Pale Cream. They certainly prefer sweetness in their sherry. Holland imports 50% Medium sherry and 37% Fino, showing they generally prefer a drier sherry. Germany is similar, importing 58% Medium sherry and 19% Fino. The U.S. is more like England, importing 67% Cream sherry.

In contrast, Manzanilla is the most popular variety of sherry in Spain, representing over half of the total sherry market and about 70% of all dry sherry. It is also the only sherry category in Spain which has either maintained or increased its demand in recent years. For exports, Manzanilla occupies only a very small percentage. For example, Holland imports the most, at 4.92%, and the U.S. only imports 1.72%.

Sherry has certainly had its ups and down through the centuries, and is currently at a low point. Yet there is no reason to believe that it cannot rebound and regain its lost popularity. It has rebounded so many times throughout history that it almost feels natural that it will rise again like a phoenix from the ashes. War, draconian rulers, plagues, floods, and more have been insufficient to eliminate sherry. It is just a matter of time before sherry consumption soars once again.

Give sherry a try, and maybe you will begin to understand why people won’t let this treasured beverage vanish.

History of Sherry: Ancient Times (Part 1)
History of Sherry: Moors to the Reconquista (Part 2)
History of Sherry: 15th to 17th Century (Part 3)
History of Sherry: 18th to 19th Century (Part 4)


pam said...

looking for the name of a sherry (?) Harvey's made in mid-80s. Can't find it since I guess they don't make it anymore. Is there a place that has a list of former John Harvey products?

Richard Auffrey said...

I would advise contacting Harveys directly at their website,