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Domecq's Domain - Fundador

He swirls the glass of brandy and raises it to the light, the dark topaz burning like liquid fire as it catches and filters the intense rays of the mid-afternoon sun. He then raises the glass to his nose inhaling deeply the aroma of fermented grapes aged to perfection, takes a moderate sip and pauses thoughtfully as he lets the symphony of flavors bloom like wild orchids in his mouth.

He has done this a thousand times before, but Don Beltran Domecq, direct descendant of the founders of the House of Domecq, makers of Fundador, the first Spanish brandy, savors every glass of brandy as if it is his first. And last.

"When you drink brandy or any wine for that matter, you involve three senses-sight, smell, taste," he says. "There is an art to it, and to appreciate good wine and distinguish it as better from the rest takes practice and years of experience."

Having worked for the House of Domecq for the past 30 years, Don Beltran knows what he is speaking of. He is master of sherry and brandy de Jerez, a role that centers on the production of sherries, wines and brandies of the House of Domecq, bringing with him a tremendous amount of know-how in the aspect of wine-making and spirit appreciation. Occasionally, he writes for enological publications, but most of the times, he crosses the Atlantic and travels across Asia as the company's roving "ambassador."

Although of French descent, there is hardly a trace of an accent when he speaks. None of the impervious tone of a Spanish don either. He talks in level tones, his eyes keenly observant. The 56-year old Beltran says he has seen the world and how it has changed.

"I'm not even going to ask how old you are," he smiles.

"Old enough to go to a brandy winetasting," I counter.

He has three children. The eldest, a lawyer in Miami, whom he says is quite separated from (making a sweeping motion with his hand) "all this."Then, he relates the first time he became directly involved in the family business.

"I was a young student taking up chemistry when my father, who was then director of the company, needed someone with a technical background. It took me six years to finish college because I also took my masteral in chemistry, apart from a series of courses I took in enology, the study of wines and its modifications," he relates.

Chemistry, he adds, gives one a very good background to go into specific areas of enology.

Family is naturally a very important link to all these things, but according to Don Beltran, though it may seem that his life has already benn mapped out for him, he would not have it any other way. After graduating from a university at 23, he worked for a time in a company in London, perhaps to stretch his wings a bit before taking the reins from his father in 1972.

"My grandfather died when I was only 18, but the first tastings of sherry must have been with him. It was from my uncles that I learned about brandy and how to blend the different soleras, or wines in different stages of ageing, to obtain a specific type of brandy, one that has special aromas and different personalities, one that is unique from the rest," he confides.

His austere features then takes on a more animated appearance, like a professor explaining a fascinating subject to a student. "Fact is, all the modifications that happen in wines are a series of chemical reactions that unite two different components to produce one that is more complex," he says.

And he can go on and on about the intricacies of the wine making, which to him is both a science and an art. "It's like this. You know what something will taste like when you blend two or three things together. Something you cannot learn from a book."

For instance, the Fundador Gran Exclusivo, the reason for Don Beltran's visit to the Philippines, is a very complex and special blend which, he says, must be made up of 10 or more components.

"That is why I kept stressing the dates of the foundation of the soleras. One of them is Fundador, which is 1874. Solera is the system by whicb you are extracting small portions of the oldest skin and replacing it with another mix of aged brandy so that you are always leaving a very high percentage of the original brandy there. With all the extractions you do year after year, that means you are always leaving portions that has been there for many, many years," he explains. "We are talking of about 70 years, in a bottle."

Many generations of the House of Domecq, established in 1730 and is believed to be the oldest in the French Bearn region, have worked hard to build the business to what it is today, and the story of Don Beltran Domecq would not be complete without delving into the family's history.

Though initially known for producing some of the best sherry in the world, the House of Domecq has come to be known for an even more prevalent product in modern times: brandy. In fact, the history of brandy in Spain is tied closely to the growth of the House of Domecq itself, a story, Don Beltran says, of "an accident which provoked a miracle."

It was in the year 1730 when the family established the vineyards in Jerez, attracted by its location, which was perfect for the propagation of grapes for sherry production. In 1860, an order by a merchant in Amsterdam for 500 butts of holandas, high-quality spirits the House of Domecq produced in the 19th century, was placed with Pedro Domecq Loustau, who was then in charge of the business. So as not to waste resources, the holandas was stored and transported in casks previosly used for aging sherry. Upon delivery, the client failed to pay. As reselling such a large quantity would have been difficult, the stock went back to the Domecq cellars in Jerez. There they lay for years without so much as being touched.

After many years of neglect, the distillation supervisor drew some samples from the forgotten casks. Much to his surprise the holandas had changed color to a rich golden brown and produced a much sweeter and richer taste due to the sherry aromas. From this stroke of chance, Fundador (the Founder), the first aged brandy in Jerez, was born and put in the market in 1874.

In the Philippines, Fundador has grown to be the most recognized name in brandy since its introduction in 1902 and is in fact the most imported spirit in the country.

"Fundador has been introduced in the Philippines by Tabacalera, who was our agent for a number of years until Allied Domecq Espana came in," says Beltran. The Philippines is the company's fourth largest Asian market.

Is he aware of how Fundador is being advertised locally with women in skimpy outfits as visual come-ons? "The marketing approach here is totally different from how we do it in Spain. But it is not always that bad..." he trails off. He went on to add that in Europe, they are more in competition wih other sherry brands as much as they see themselves the leader in the brandy market in the Philippines.
The company exports four million cases a year to more than 100 countries including Spain, UK, Mexico, Benelux, USA and Canada.

Of what of his management style? "I am more of a technical person than a manager in Jerez. As you may have noticed, I like to do things properly. You can say I am a perfectionist. I like to analyze things and then decide what movements to make, and how to accomplish them."

How then would he describe a perfectly aged brandy? "Good coloring, great body, has character and wonderful aroma. Has a very good aftertaste and after-sensation," he enumerates. Hmmm. From the way he decribes it, can he possibly be describing something other than the spirited kind? A woman perhaps? He smiles.

He has a very hectic schedule but whenever he has time he goes trekking, plays football or goes horseback riding. His extensive knowledge in wines and spirits come in handy every now and then, especially on occasions like dinners or family gatherings. But he claims he cannot cook to save his life.

"There are only three things I can do in the kitchen--fry an egg, make an omelette and, what else?" he then makes a Gallic shrug. "I don't know...It's sad, yes. But I have a wife who is an expert cook. I wouldn't want to compete with that."


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