The history of El Maestro Sierra is one of self-improvement, non-conformity, and a firm desire to fight for a clear goal that 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 artisanal house in a social climate dominated by the aristocrats of his time.
El Maestro Sierra was passed down through the family and protected by the legendary Doña Pilar Pla Pechovierto from 1976 until her passing in 2020. She was a brave and resolute woman who inherited the business after the early death of her husband, Antonio Borrego. Pilar 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 entirely by women. When her husband passed away in 1976, she resisted the intense pressure to sell and kept the winery going through tough times by selling wines to the locals in jugs. In 1997, while the men were away from the Consejo Regulador, she was stealthily able to obtain the first bottling permit for an almacenista house, which was forbidden until that point. Pilar was an extraordinary individual with a singularity of purpose: to maintain the grand estate of El Maestro Sierra. 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.
The tradition is continued by Pilar’s daughter and current owner, Dr. Carmen Borrego Pla, and capataza Ana Cabestrero; aided by long-time-family-friend and consultant master capataz, Paco Salas. Dr. 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 and continues to be one of the region’s foremost cultural historians.
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