• Image about Osborne Group

Discovers how an advertising campaign for Spanish brandy came to represent something else: an entire country.


The road to the workshop isn't paved. The old Volvo clunks along the rocks and shards of stone lining the alleyway. When the car stops, two tiny dogs chase each other in a race to reach it. Their yapping obscures the sound of a bright blue corrugated metal door sliding sideways to open. A courtyard is revealed, but there aren't any beds of flowers or paths of manicured grass, only a gravel lot and a low-lying cinder-block building. From every vantage point, you can see the familiar silhouette. Black. Robust. Unmistakable.

Here, in a battered workshop rife with tools and tradition, the heart of the Osborne Group, and some say of Spain itself, resides. Here, in El Puerto de Santa María, in the sherry triangle of Spain. Here, on the outskirts of town, miles from where the corporate offices are. It's the Tejada family workshop, an unassuming place, where a most imposing figure is forged - the Osborne bull, the symbol that rose from ad to icon.

What is now the Osborne Group was founded in 1772 as a producer of fine sherry and brandy. Since then, the company has added numerous varieties and vintages of wine to their offerings, as well as other business interests, including bottled water, Iberian pork products, and the Mesón 5J restaurant chain. The business continues to be family owned and operated. And despite its other endeavors, wines and spirits - including sherry, brandy, and port - continue to be the central focus of the company.

Osborne's products are distributed in more than 40 countries, and in 2005, the company increased its 2004 business by 6.4 percent. Naturally, the creation of Osborne products in Spain and the vast distribution of them outside the country are important to the Spanish economy. But the products and the international business they have created as exports are only part of what Osborne has given its homeland. Strangely, and quite unintentionally, Osborne also gave them what has grown to become the symbol for an entire nation - the profile of a proud and virile bull.

The now readily recognizable image didn't debut to such fame, of course. In 1956, Osborne hired commercial artist Manolo Prieto to create a logo for use on the bottles of its Veterano brandy. The company wanted something representative of Osborne and its native country, as well as something that would easily translate as a billboard. That is, something simple, powerful, and memorable. Enter the bull. Prieto penned a silhouette that necessitated no fine detail. Its black coloring and easily decipherable features made it ideal for the bottle and for the roadside. Osborne was thrilled.

So thrilled, in fact, that the shape of the Osborne bull remains true to the original Prieto drawing even to this day. El Toro has, however, gotten bigger and stronger over the years. Not long after the bull existed as a line drawing, it was transformed into roadside signage. In 1957, the very first bull-shaped billboard - or "bullboard" - was erected. It was only 13 feet high and was cut from a single sheet of wood. At the year's end, there were a total of 16 bulls in place. But after only a few years, it became clear that they couldn't weather, well, the weather. The elements made quick work of battering the timber bulls. That's when Félix Tejada entered the picture. Osborne hired the metalúrgico (Spanish for "metalsmith") to engineer a bull that would be as strong physically as it was emblematically.

What he designed is a remarkable feat of engineering. The Osborne bulls found in Spain today weigh nearly 9,000 pounds apiece, and each measures almost 45 feet high - the average height of a four-story building. El Toro is a massive jigsaw puzzle of sorts, made from seventy 35-by-75-inch pieces of 5/64-inch-thick iron; 1,000 bolts; four scaffolding-like turrets held in place with bases that, combined, weigh 55 tons; and 20 gallons of black paint. Tejada is both the brains and the brawn behind the entire endeavor; his family workshop is the backdrop for each bull's "birth."

When Tejada explains the process of engineering the design, crafting the pieces, and building the bulls, he speaks with the pride of a father. No wonder - until five years ago, he himself made all the bullboards, fashioning each new bull according to his design plan, forging the pieces and the scaffolding in his workshop. Then, along with his team, he assembled each at its final roadside home.

"We put all the pieces together with fire. So we have buckets of water prepared. We've never had an accident," Tejada says with well-deserved satisfaction. It might sound old-school, and, well, it is. But Tejada doesn't believe in fixing something that's not broken. Osborne apparently abides by the same tenet. "[The Osbornes] have never bothered me," Tejada says. "Lots of things in the business have changed. But they've never asked me to change a thing." The people of Spain clearly value tradition.

That, of course, includes those traditions inspired by the bulls. Graduating marines in El Puerto climb the bulls, crowning them with their graduation caps. In Tejada's own family, whenever a child reaches the age of seven, he or she climbs up through the turrets to the top of the 45-foot bull that sits on the road leading to the town of Conil de la Frontera. And all throughout Spain, people paint the bullboards, decorate them, climb them, you name it - and it rarely fails to make the paper.