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New owners get Sandeman fit for the future

The 210-year-old House of Sandeman is to get a makeover. New owners Sogrape are turning to modern clones and mechanical harvesting in order to generate better returns as the sherry market emerges from a difficult era.

‘Innovation and modernisation are crucial if we are to attain better quality and promote breakthrough growth in the sherry market,’ a spokesperson for Sandeman said.

According to Sandeman, problems today stem mostly from the vineyard, where labour is hard to find and technology lags behind other regions. ‘Our biggest problem is to find people,’ Angel Colorado, production manager at Sandeman’s said. This is despite high unemployment in the Jerez region.

The company is already experimenting with mechanisation in the vineyard. Mechanical harvesting will compensate for the labour shortage, but it also reduces the time from vineyard to lagar (the winemaking facility) with implications for quality. ‘We are aiming for higher quality wines in the long term combined with greater cost-effectiveness,’ the spokesperson said.

Modern winemaking techniques which give greater control over the growth of ‘flor’, the yeast that contributes to sherry’s flavour, are also being incorporated.

In California, Sandeman is working with the renowned viticulture and oenology department at Davis University to develop new clones of Palomino, the principal sherry grape. It is hoped these clones will be better suited to the higher training of vines mechanisation requires.

In an effort to broaden its market, Sandeman last year launched a range of less alcoholic sherries to be drunk cocktail-fashion rather than matched with food.

Global sherry exports have declined 62.6% since 1979. Around 76m bottles are sold annually, of which 80% go abroad, mainly to UK, Netherlands and Germany.

Portuguese wine group Sogrape acquired Sandeman in June 2002, adding the port and sherry brand to a line-up that already includes Mateus, Offley, Ferreira, and Argentina’s Finca Flichman, as well as wines from Portugal’s Douro, Dão and Alentejo appellations.

Written by Richard James19 September 2002

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