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Gonzalez Byass goes sherry light with a twist on an old classic

Published:  13 February, 2018

Packed out sherry and port stands at Gonzalez Byass UK’s tasting yesterday showed there is strength in the traditional fortified category, with Quinta do Noval and flagship Tio Pepe brand drawing crowds.

The real talking point however was the company’s Croft Twist, a curiously light-hearted product from one of the great, serious sherry-making dynasties.

Despite its anglicised packaging (regulation omits the word ‘sherry’ from the bottle – instead it is labelled as a lightly sparkling, fino spritz British aperitif) the product has its roots in Andalusia’s traditional ‘rebujito’ – a long drink sold in Jerez’s ferias made from fino sherry, usually La Casera (a Spanish brand of soda) with mint.

The twist comes from the elderflower, one of the British-inspired cordials which UK managing director Martin Skelton and head of marketing Alison Easton took over to Jerez as part of a wide brief to come up with a drink that was separate from the rest of the portfolio, but offered a British twist on a sherry drink.

“Croft is an ancient bodega which originated in Portugal as a port house before being established in Jerez in 1960s,” said Skelton.

“Croft Original was designed specifically with British tastes in mind - a pale, crisp fino, which has become very well respected, so we thought why not do something with it?

“The Twist has a hint of sweetness from the elderflower, but the fino gives it a proper grown-up dryness which makes it ideal for adult drinkers.”

Designed with Pimms and Aperol Spritz-loving Brits in mind, the Twist is another example of a product which has drawn on the mixed heritage of the company.

Gonzalez Byass was founded over 175 years ago as a partnership between Robert Byass, a British wine merchant, and the Gonzalez family in Spain, to bring sherry to the UK.

At £7.50 RRP, the RTD sits above other wine brands’ entry into the lower ABV, long drink segment, such as Echo Falls Fruit Fusion (£4 RRP), and so far has found listings in upmarket department stores Harvey Nicholas, Fenwick in Newcastle and John Lewis since its launch last summer.

Sales of sherry at Gonzalez Byass are on the rise, particularly dry styles as well as in the super premium category, with sherry currently accounting for around 50% of sales.

But despite this, the 5.5% ABV Twist was not designed to bring consumers into the sherry category, but rather those who are drinking “Pimms, spritzes and maybe craft beers,” as well as those who are tuned into the trend for cocktails, low ABV drinks and British summertime.

“There is nostalgia for the Croft brand name,” Easton added. “The research we did showed that people remember it from when they were younger as being a part of the family, but they wouldn’t drink it now. That association with the Croft name and the association with England is what we’re using rather than sherry per se. Having said that, we have seen some evidence of Twist drinkers moving across to traditional sherries.”

Elsewhere, the company showed the newly-bought Pazos de Lusco in Rías Baxias – plugging a previously filled gap for an Albarino producer in the region as popularity for the style grows.

Also, Gonzalez Byass UK showed the first vintage of its Beronia Verdejo 2017 from its new winery in the Rueda DO.

The winery, which began building works three years ago, is the second for flagship Rioja brand Beronia, marking a considerable investment in Castilla y León.