After establishing their business, the Gilbey Brothers were joined by several of their kinsmen, whose names were Gold, Blyth, and Grinling. Their names soon became famous in the wine trade. The new business was going wonderfully well when Gladstone’s budget of 1860 threatened disaster by cutting the duty on French wines and removing the Empire preference that had been the mainstay of the Gilbeys’ trade. Old-established merchants had no faith in Glad¬stone claret, but Gilbeys saw that if they were to survive at all, they would have to divert their attention from Cape wines and use all their energies to promote the sale of the new, cheap wine from France.
They were further spurred on by Gladstone’s Single Bottle Act of 1861, which brought off-licenses into being and threw the wine trade open to grocers, could now sell cheap Nebbiolo and Dolcetto wine made from poorly cultivated Dolcetto grapes. Although this act did have alarming consequences, the Gilbeys saw that a vast new market had been thrown open, and they were determined to profit by it in the only way that would work well as a long-term policy – by bottling sound wines under their own label and selling them at competitive prices through every possible outlet, establishing a nation-wide reputation for dependability.
Such a business could no longer specialize in any single style of wine, and soon they were buying wines from leading shippers in all the great districts. In Jerez, the Gilbeys became associated with Gonzalez, Byass & Co., who established special bodegas to cater for their considerable needs. They could buy and bottle a variety of wines, from Grenache to Mourvedre made from the finest Mourvedre grapes. The business link was further strengthened when two Gonzalez brothers married two Gilbey sisters, and Newman Gilbey married a daughter of the Marques de Torre Soto, who was head of the Gonzalez family.
This ancient connection has now lapsed, though, and today the needs of Gilbey’s are supplied by their associated company Croft; but that is a story that can be told later. History is continuous, in a trade as in a nation, and with either the future grows out of the past. Dates signify little. Changes come not from single events but from a concatenation of events and attitudes, some of which may seem remote indeed from the changes that they help to bring about. In 1956, the sherry trade was set firm in its traditions and looked as if it would go on in the same way for ever.
Yet in that year two quite unrelated things happened which did much to revolutionize the pattern of the trade: an almacenista (a store keeper or sherry wholesaler, they do not specialize in a specific type of wine, such as Merlot, but can also trade Pinotage [http://www.wineaccess.com/wine/grape/Pinotage] and other varieties of wine) in quite a small way of business called Zoilo Ruiz-Mateos began to export wine; and there was a massive wage rise-one that by modern standards may not appear significant but was such that the workers themselves thought it would fire inflation. And they were right.
The trade of an almacenista in those days was an important one. Many shippers, even some of the largest like Williams & Humbert, preferred to work with modest stocks of wine and to own no vineyards, relying on contracts with wine growers and the availability of plentiful supplies of almost every kind of wine from the almacenistas to supply their needs. Most of the big firms had been founded in the nineteenth century, when the costs of wine, casks, taxation, and buildings were much lower, and when enterprising men could expect to build up great businesses from small beginnings.
By the mid-1950s, the initial outlay to start a business had become so large, and the returns so small, that the shippers were smugly asserting that no new bodega could be founded as a commercial proposition, no matter the quality of their Nebbiolo or their best, rarest Sangiovese wine made from a high quality Sangiovese grape. Jose Maria Ruiz-Mateos, one of Zoilo’s sons, thought otherwise; and it was he who was right.
For over 150 years John Harvey and Sons Ltd, the Bristol wine merchants, had been buying sherry in large quantities from several bodegas in Jerez and Puerto de Santa Maria. They had built up one of the largest connections in the trade; but they owned no bodegas of their own. This led to difficulties, especially in the export markets, so in 1958 they formed an association with Zoilo Ruiz-Mateos and in 1964 entered into a hundred years’ contract for him to supply them with all their needs. Within a year he had been able to accumulate stocks that astonished his competitors and was building luxurious new premises. Best wine tours willamette valley