Lustau may now be one of the most prestigious sherry houses, but it began as a one-man operation. In 1896, Don José Ruiz-Berdejo began tending his own vines at his estate – known as Nuestra Senora de la Esperanza (or ‘Our Lady of Hope’) – on the outskirts of Jerez de la Frontera. He produced small quantities of sherry, which he then sold to larger export companies: this was what was known as an ‘almacenista’ – a warehouse or stock-keeper – and was a term that would gain great significance to Lustau.
Don José’s son continued in his father’s footsteps when he took over in the 1940s, but he relocated the business to Jerez city centre, so he had better room to expand. He began exporting in the 1950s, and the business grew rapidly, so much so that in the 1970s he bought back two cellars from the old family estate at Nuestra Senora de la Esperanza.
In the 1980s, the talented Rafel Balao began to manage the estate and, as well as launching a distinctive new bottle design, he was responsible for creating the Almacenista range of sherries. It reflected the spirit of the company’s inception, and also showed how important smaller producers are: each sherry in the range is made by a small-scale producer that is referenced on Lustau’s label.
During the 1990s and the first part of the21st century, huge investment by a large Spanish drinks company allowed the expansion and refurbishment of Lustau’s bodegas. It also allowed Lustau to purchase several bodegas and wines from popular sherry house Domecq, including its popular La Ina and Botaina ranges. This expansion meant that the company was now the only sherry house to produce wine in all three areas of the Sherry Triangle: Jerez de la Frontera, El Puerto de Santa María and Sanlúcar de Barrameda.
Lustau owns over 200 hectares of vineyards, most of which are typically Jerez white albariza soils, and suit the main sherry grape, palomino. The limestone-based soils are able to absorb rain during the wet winters, and then release the moisture to the scorched wine during the hot summers. Closer to the coast, Lustau’s vineyard soils are sandier, and much better suited to the grapes used to make its sweeter wines, pedro ximénez and moscatel.
Some of the company’s refurbished bodegas date back to the nineteenth century, and great attention was paid to keeping renovations in like with the original architecture: as such, the bodegas boast stunning high ceilings and cathedral-like grandeur. Lustau twin these features with modern innovations, such as sand-based floors that are periodically sprayed with water, which helps to regulate the cellar’s humidity.
At Lustau’s other bodegas – in Santa Maria and Sanlúcar de Barrameda – a proximity to water (the Guadalete and Guadalquivir rivers respectively) is what regulates the humidity. This both encourages the flor to develop in the barrels, which is particularly good for fino, and gives the manzanilla a distinctive, saline quality.
The company’s range now comprises over forty sherries of all styles, sold widely throughout the UK, and Botaina and La Ina are particularly fine.