When he was barely a meter tall, Yordanis Rey tried it for the first time. It was there in his father’s house where he sipped from a carafe, which was kept in the bathroom, and the wine it contained left its mark on the child.
Like the Argentine writer Jorge Luis Borges, one of the most prominent authors of 20th century literature, this man from Camagüey, the descendent of Andalusians, asked of wine that it teach him the art of seeing his own history and, like the great U.S. novelist Ernest Hemingway, discovered that wine was one of the most civilized things in the world.
The tradition of the Rey Calatrava family, who originally came from the province of Jaén in Spain, and had grapevines in eastern Cuba, took on such strengths that it found a home in “Bodegas del Rey,” a mini industry belonging to the Small Agribusiness Subprogram of the National Urban Agriculture Group, represented by the Camagüey Agriculture Enterprise.
Using traditional artisan methods, the small company run by Yordanis Rey specializes in the production of vinegars, dry cooking wines, table wines, spirits and other products, that are almost always imported into the country for national consumption.
As the winemaker explains, while international wines are well-known on the island, the same can not be said for Cuban vineyards, which have a long tradition.
In the words of this engineer, “Bodegas del Rey” has a range of innovative offers, not only for the large domestic market they already have, but also in order to introduce their products to the tourism sector, which offers excellent opportunities for the development of a practice that genuinely unites culture and identity.
Referring to the first artisan wines that are being presented to the sector, Yordanis notes that demonstrating the quality of Cuban wine to a foreign market that knows the drink well, represents both a challenge and a tremendous opportunity. “Sometimes the tourism industry suffers the inability to present the visitor with a local product, which exists and is not properly exploited,” he adds.
In addition, the mini factory, with a production capacity of 26,000 liters per month, is faced with many competitors in the so-called First World, of the Old and New Continents, as in Cuba there are wine suppliers from Spain, Chile and Argentina. However, Yordanis reiterates that authenticity is the main appeal of what they produce.
IN VINO VERITAS
Surely Pliny the Elder was right to conclude that in wine lies the truth, some say for the power it holds to free people of their inhibitions, or perhaps as on merely trying it, one knows whether it is a good wine or not. Nor was the inventor of penicillin wrong when he stated that wine makes human beings happy. That wise Sir Fleming.
This is why Yordanis Rey also knows that success depends on the quality of the drink he sells, either inside or outside Cuba, either to his compatriots or to foreigners. “The customer must be convinced how good the product is. We are concerned with the aesthetics of good taste, but without abandoning traditions. Some compare the bottles we have with those of other nations and it is not about that. We want people to know that we make artisan, but also delicious wines,” he affirms.
Who has not had a grandparent, parent or cousin who has made their own barrel of wine from grapes or other ferments? The expert clarifies: “The tradition that we follow is unique and backs us up. We make an artisan product, which is duly analyzed and certified by the National Center for Quality Inspection and the National Registry of Food Hygiene.”
Convinced that “Bodegas del Rey” will have an impact within the domestic and international arena, Yordanis, who leads a team of a dozen workers, adds that at the national level, they must continue to exploit every detail for the production and marketing of wines, according to the possibilities of each territory.
While they have their own vines, experimental fields and equipment, “Bodegas del Rey” also relies on vineyards in well- known locations on the slopes of the Sierra Maestra in eastern Cuba, and in the western province of Pinar del Río, as well as some producers of the true Camagüey grape, in the region of Nuevitas, to the north of this central province. “We’re trying to acclimatize other grapes in the Pinar del Río region of Vueltabajo and in Soroa (in the western province of Artemisa), which have good fields,” Yordanis adds.
As “Bodegas del Rey” grows, the harmonious and integrated development of the communities with which the enterprise has links becomes stronger. From the standpoint of its leader, “We can not stop. We must produce and reach out to all destinations, using the patents that we have, including marketing ourselves to private businesses interested in an entirely Cuban product, which can reach the hands of those who visit us.”
Likewise, Yordanis Rey reviews sales on the island, which are focused on retail and food and services enterprises, and agricultural markets. “In Havana we do not have a presence, but we are in the contracting process. The biggest markets are Granma, Holguín, Las Tunas, Ciego de Ávila and Camagüey,” he adds.
Described as a national reference for mini industry and enjoying good reviews, “Bodegas del Rey” remains true to its origins and, while looking toward tourism, combats prejudices regarding the consumption of artisan wines. Without abandoning the focus on its grapes, Yordanis hopes to also produce soy sauces, is experimenting with a line of rice wine and seeking new suppliers of raw materials, whether artisans, private producers or state enterprises.
Recalling the afternoon when he first discovered what wine was, back at his father’s house, Yordanis Rey stresses the need to drink responsibly. “There are many strong drinks that foster alcoholism, but wine is a complement, something healthy, if drunk in moderation. It is a treasure that can also be found in Cuba,” he concludes.