El Maestro Sierra

Since its inception, the history of El Maestro Sierra is one of self-improvement, non-conformity and a firm desire to fight for a clear goal which has challenged the established norms of the local wine business in Jerez. El Maestro Sierra was founded in 1830 by master cooper José Antonio Sierra, who ran a prosperous barrel-building business called La Merced. Recognized as one of the top coopers in the area, he longed to become involved in the Sherry trade itself. Eventually, he set about building a small winery with the aim of making the best sherries possible. As the sherry business was, and remains to this day, dominated by aristocratic families, the idea of a humble worker joining their ranks was met with open disdain. After many hardships he was able to establish and grow his business, becoming one of the most respected almacenistas (stock-holders) of high-quality sherry. It is still run by his descendants, located in a privileged part of Jerez on top of the hill, exposed to the cool Poniente winds which nourish the elegant wines. As a reminder of the bodega’s struggles, the labels depict a hunting scene with a hare being chased by the nobles, alluding to José Antonio Sierra’s struggles founding the house.

Pilar Pla Pechovierto, the current owner of El Maestro Sierra since 1976, is a brave and resolute woman who managed to drive the business forward despite the prevailing machismo of the time. El Maestro Sierra became the first and is still one of the few bodegas run by women. She is assisted by her daughter, Carmen Borrego Pla, capataza Ana Cabestrero, and long-time consultant master capataz, Paco Salas. Doña Pilar’s husband was a direct descendant of the family and through many hardships, she has respected his wish that the winery remain in operation. Until 1992, she sold limited stocks of wine to a few of the large Sherry houses. Because the wines have remained virtually unmoved due to the slow business in the following decades, the stocks at El Maestro Sierra are some of the oldest and most undisturbed in Jerez. Her daughter, Dr. Carmen Borrego Pla, a historian and expert in the History of the Americas at the University of Seville, has published many books and papers relating to Andalucia’s role in this grand history. For this family, history is everything.

Juan Clavijo had been the capataz of the winery for over fifty years and is still a consultant. The capataz is the cellar master and master blender who is in charge of making all of the decisions in the cellar. Having been at El Maestro Sierra his entire career, Juan Clavijo is unparalleled in his knowledge and has been directly passing that tradition to Ana Cabestrero, who took over in 2011.

Ana was brought on board in 2003 to oversee the winery, coming to Jerez from her family's Ribera del Duero winery. To move to such a male-dominated area and look for a job in a sector experiencing regressive growth was a bold undertaking. It was a decision which suits her independent and fiery personality, in keeping with the spirit of El Maestro Sierra. Upon landing at El Maestro Sierra, she immediately recognized one of the great treasures of Spain and moved confidently to guide the house to attain the recognition they deserve.

The treasures of El Maestro Sierra are many. From the back of their building they have a clear view of the Atlantic Ocean (at El Puerto de Santa María). This unique location in Jerez is one of the keys to their terruño. Here they are exposed to the cool Poniente winds which nourish the flor, allowing it to be present all year round, giving their wines elegance. They have been buying their grapes from the same suppliers for many decades and these growers are known for having some of the best parcels within Jerez Superior, mostly from the pago of Balbaína, but also from Miraflores and Trebujena.

Since the wines at El Maestro Sierra have seen little sales the stocks have remained virtually untouched for the last thirty years. The soleras at the winery are easily over 60 years old and some may be close to 100 years old. Many larger houses have pillaged their old soleras, leaving them with very little old wine, which is not the case at El Maestro Sierra.

Filtering is minimal to non-existent (done manually with a sieve to simply keep out large particles from the bottle) and no SO² is added to the wines. Each bottle from the rare old-solera (VORS) release, which is done once a year, is hand-labeled by Ana herself. This level of artisanship and dedication to quality is unrivaled in the region, with a mere 400 (half) bottles of each released annually. In fact, all of the wines in production are aged much longer than many of their contemporaries, led by their fino, which is released en rama, spending no less than six years under flor.

Being fierce protectors of tradition, they are also one of the last bodegas still working entirely by hand, without the aid of electric pumps, which are now commonplace. Instead, Ana and her team of four "run the scales" manually with the traditional canoa, jarra, sifón, and rocíador. This traditional way of moving the wine introduces the right amount of aeration of the wines, which in turn adds to the complexity. Upholding their heritage, all coopering and barrel repair is still done in-house, with no new barrels used. By anyone’s standard in Jerez, the crown jewel of Sherry is El Maestro Sierra.