Getting to know Sergio Martínez, the world’s best fortified winemaker
The last year of his Bachelor's Degree in Chemistry led him to an internship at Lustau. He quickly knew he wanted to stay there. Under the guidance of Manuel Lozano, one of the great figures of the Marco Jerezano, he discovered the world of fortified and capped wines. Today, he is considered one of the greats and, with a glass of wine in hand, he remains the guardian of a legacy and is bringing these wines to young people. No mean feat!
- You have been named Best Fortified Winemaker in the World. According to Forbes magazine, you are also one of the 50 most talented Spaniards; but in this interview we want to know what’s behind it all. Beyond all the titles, who is Sergio Martínez?
I think of myself as a normal person, I am married and I have two daughters who are my passion. I am very fortunate to work in something I like and, most importantly, to enjoy my work.
- When did your relationship with wine start? Was it always clear to you that you wanted to do this? Or was it one point in your life in particular that you heard the call of the winemaking world?
I have always been connected to the world of wine, because my grandfather had vineyards and I have very good memories of my childhood; but I had never thought of spending my life working in the world of wine. When I started my internship at Lustau (I was finishing my degree in Chemical Sciences), something changed in me and I said to myself “I have to work here”. That’s when I felt the spark, and I was drawn into the wines of Jerez in general and Lustau in particular.
- For the fifth year in a row you have been named Best Fortified Winemaker in the World by the International Wine Challenge. And not only that... You also appear in the list of The 50 Most Talented Spaniards, according to Forbes! How do you feel about these awards? How have they benefited you professionally and/or personally?
It is incredible and very lovely, because you see that your dreams, with hard work and dedication, can be achieved; there is also a great satisfaction both personally and professionally. Not everyone is lucky enough to be recognised for their work. Professionally, it has benefited me by confirming that we are on the right track, that we are doing things right, that the team works and that we have a clear path to follow. In terms of the benefits for me personally, I haven’t stopped to think about that yet. I don't want to think about it too much at the moment. I might end up putting too much pressure on myself. I just want to focus on doing things well and keep working with the same enthusiasm and excitement as always. My family is really enjoying it... And when I retire, I’ll be able to look back and enjoy it immensely...
- Your teacher was Manuel Lozano, a person who was wholly dedicated to his profession and who left a great legacy in the world of wine. What was it like to have started at his feet? Do you remember your first day working with him? What does the responsibility of carrying his legacy mean to you?
When I started working with him, back in February 2003, I didn’t know who he was, and I didn’t understand the great figure he would become in Jerez. He was always a very good teacher to me, he took me in from day one and continually gave me advice. I remember my first day of work really well, when he gave me a book about Jerez and said: “A man without information is a man without opinion.”
Although it is a huge responsibility, for me it is also a source of pride to be able to maintain his legacy.
- What is it about the world of sherry wine that is so captivating and engaging? Do you think these wines have greater recognition outside the region?
At first glance it might seem like sherry wine is very complex, but once you dare to dig a little deeper, you are trapped forever... Precisely because of its complexity and versatility. I always say that anyone who says they don’t like sherry wine just hasn’t found “their” wine. We have such a variety of colours, aromas, flavours, sweetness... In short: many sensations, and there must be a Sherry wine that you like.
Undoubtedly, nowadays, I think that Sherry wines have more recognition outside the area, as with so many things in Spain... Although this is changing little by little.
- The exquisite potential of sherry wines has found good allies for spreading the word in gastronomy and among the great chefs. Do you think that, from the winery and at the winery, the winemaker can also contribute to promoting consumption? If so, how?
The winemaker plays a very important role: to make the wines known as they see them in the winery. I have always opted for, and I believe it is the future, the selection of wines and for wines in the barrel; so that the consumer can enjoy the same sensations I do when I go to the winery, sampling tube in hand, barrel by barrel.
- How would you introduce more young people to Sherry wines? Some still think of them as old people’s drinks. Of all the wines from the Marco de Jerez, which one would you show them first and why?
In order to bring Sherry wines closer to young people, I believe that more needs to be done in terms of marketing, advertising, tastings, workshops, etc. In short: we need to highlight and share the benefits of wines that are unique in the world.
For uninitiated consumers, I would start with sweet wines like Cream, Moscatel or P.X., because they are more appealing to this type of consumer; and once they know our history and the way we make our wines, I would move onto the drier wines (Finos and Olorosos) and with the double aged (Amontillados, Palos Cortados). I think by doing this, they would start to like Sherry.
- There are many barrels involved in the production of a Marco de Jerez wine. We imagine that you will need to know every single barrel in the cellar down to the smallest detail. How do you go about keeping each and every one of them in mind? What are the factors you look at when deciding which wine each of them will be used for and why?
I really do have a mental map and I just enjoy my work. After touring the winery and wearing out the soles of my shoes, I have a clear idea of every vintage and where the best areas are for each type of aging.
First I make an organoleptic assessment, which is then compared to analytical data and, using both, a decision is made as to where the wine will go.
- At this point in the interview, we have to ask you about the Lustau Vermouths, which have been very successful, and they also recover a tradition that had been lost in the Jerez region. In fact, Lustau Rojo Vermouth has been recognised as “Best Vermouth in Spain”, according to the Asociación Española de Periodistas y Escritores del Vino (Spanish Association of Wine Journalists and Writers, AEPEV). How are they different from other vermouths? What does the use of fortified wines from Jerez add to its production?
Trying to maintain the quality of Lustau, we wanted to make a vermouth that would take advantage of the raw material we have in the cellar and with botanicals from the Jerez area. If Lustau has very good quality wines, we wanted to try making a vermouth where those wines are enhanced; we’re not looking for a vermouth where the botanicals mask the wines, nor where the wines overshadow the botanicals. And the fortified wines of Jerez bring a variety of aromas and nuances to vermouths, whereas if other wines were used, more botanicals would have to be used.
- Of all your wines, you must have a favourite? Would you tell us which one it is and why?
Undoubtedly, biologically aged wines are the ones that fascinate me. We can’t forget that these are “living” wines. The best care and conditions must be provided so that the yeasts that make up the yeast cap, which makes every wine different, can develop in the best possible way.
- In your opinion, what do you think are your greatest successes in your professional career?
Having had the good fortune to work with Manuel Lozano, my best success has been to maintain the level of quality marked by the philosophy of Lustau; bringing some improvements through my training and experience, if possible.
- Besides wine, do you have any hobbies that you do in your free time?
With two young daughters (8 and 4 years old) and two dogs, I barely have time for hobbies; but yes, I love photography and the sea. Whenever I can I take time for my little hobbies, enjoying myself and relaxing.
- And finally, you, who is passionate about wine and someone who usually has to taste a lot of them (either for work or for pleasure), have you found one recently that has surprised or excited you and that you would like to share with us?
There is one wine that has surprised me recently. It is a Greek wine called Retsina, it is a very unusual wine (with a pine taste).