Of Mice and Men and Sherry


A glass of sherry w/ladder awaits the mice of Gonzalez Byass /Photo Michelle Locke
A glass of sherry w/ladder awaits the mice of Gonzalez Byass /Photo Michelle Locke
“The best laid plans o’ mice and men,” wrote the poet Robert Burns, “gang aft agley,” which is Scots for “get totally FUBAR.”*

But Burns evidently never visited the Gonzalez Byass winery in Jerez de la Frontera.

GB, makers of the popular Tio Pepe fino, or dry, sherry, have a fantastic cellar at their headquarters in Jerez that, among other things, includes a glass of sherry left out daily for the winery mice. There’s even a tiny ladder propped against the side to make it easier for the mice imbibers to get a little nip. The story is that years ago one of the workers, toiling alone all day, made friends with the field mice that occasionally skitter about the sandy floor and decided to lend a helping hand.

I visited the cellar as part of my recent trip to Jerez and the Rioja hosted by GB and found the cellar one of the most interesting I’ve seen. Beyond the mouse glass there are a number of barrels that have been autographed by famous visitors ranging from Winston Churchill to Cole Porter. (Oddly enough, they did not ask me to sign. Probably didn’t want to make the rest of the group feel awkward.)

Another high point is the room full of huge barrels named after the 12 apostles. The apostles flank a truly gargantuan barrel that was made for the occasion of a royal visit. The big barrel holds about 33 butts of wine (3,600 gallons), and therefore was nicknamed after Christ who died at age 33. The apostles were brought in as natural companions. I was surprised to find “Judas” stuck in a corner, you would have thought he would have been apostle non grata, but it was explained to me that the barrel was actually named after the other, non-silver-pieces-betraying guy. known in English as Jude.

Tio Pepe, named after the founder’s “Uncle Joe,” was the first registered trademark in Spain and that’s not the only first associated with the winery, which dates back to the 1830s. A grandson of the founder, Manuel Maria Gonzalez Gordon, Marquis of Bonanza, wrote the book Jerez-Xerez-Sherry, still considered a guide, and was the first manufacturer in Spain to install electricity in his plant. (Far thinking Jerez and Haro in the Rioja were the first Spanish cities to have electricity.)

Also, Marquis de Bonanza? I’m completely jealous of that name. And I say that as someone who is legally Mrs. Ho.

Waiter, there's a mouse in my glass! /GB photo
Waiter, there’s a mouse in my glass! /GB photo

*FUBAR=A military expression, Fouled Up Beyond All Recognition. Although usually not using the word “fouled.”