The "Bodegas" of Sherry
At present there are 64 "Bodegas de Crianza y Expedicion" (or Sherry Shippers) included in the register of the DOÂ´s Regulating Council. These firms must be located in one of the three towns of the "Sherry Triangle": Jerez de la Frontera, El Puerto de Santa Maria or Sanlucar de Barrameda. They must also fulfill all of the requirements laid down in the Regulations for the ageing and shipping of Sherry wines. Together with the Sherry Shippers, there are also in the Denomination some other firms or "bodegas" exclusively dedicated to the ageing of wines which are then sold on to the Shippers. These "Bodegas de Crianza y Almacenado", commonly known as simply "almacenistas" must also be located in the towns of Jerez de la Frontera, el Puerto de Santa Maria or Sanlucar de Barrameda.
Finally, there is another type of "bodegas" in the Denomination of Origin which can be located outside of the "Sherry Triangle". However, as they are in the Production Area, they enjoy the right to produce and age wines which are then sold to the cellars in Jerez, El Puerto or Sanlucar. Such firms are known as Production Bodegas and need to be registered as such in the Consejo Regulador.
The Architecture of Sherry Bodegas
The "bodegas" buildings in the Jerez Region are always beautiful and frequently impressive. But beyond their beauty, they are also extremely functional buildings. The climate of the region, southern and warm but with a strong cooling influence from the Atlantic Ocean, is not particularly ideal for making quality wines. This has challenged the wine growers of Jerez to adapt their cellars to their environment, always seeking a perfect harmony between beauty and function.
The one-storey cellars are usually located close to the sea or on relatively high sites exposed to the Ocean, so that the wines in the barrels can benefit from the morning sea breezes and westerly winds. Moreover, the Jerez winegrowers build their cellars along a northeast-southwest axis that provides for the minimum hours of direct sunlight and maximum humidity. The yeasts in the flor thrives on darkness and silence and for that reason the windows are
set high up in the walls and are rectangular, to prevent the sunlight from falling on the butts. The windows are covered with lattices or blinds made of esparto grass, enabling the sea breezes to enter while keeping out the light.
The bodegas in the Jerez Region have a greater height than those in other wine Regions, their central arch reaching heights of up to 14.5 m. The winegrowers use this model of cellar in order to ensure a large volume of air for each butt since good ventilation is a prerequisite of the wines' biological ageing process. The buildings' side walls are never less than 60 cm thick in order to support the high outer walls and to provide good thermal insulation. The walls are made of highly hygroscopic materials so that the cellars maintain a high level of humidity. For the same reason the floors are of sand, lime and iron oxide which are sprinkled with water twice a week during Summer in order to keep the cellars cool.
In 1264, when Alfonse X the Wise's troops captured Jerez's Alcazar fortress, there were already twenty-one cellars in the Moorish town and two of the town's seven mosque's were also converted into cellars. The Moorish cellars were quite small and covered by a short-beamed pent roof covered with Arab tiles, their capacity limited to less than twenty butts. Moorish cellars can still be seen in Sanlucar de Barrameda and Trebujena, towns in the Jerez Region.
When the Christian troops entered Jerez in 1264, its four large mosques were converted into the city's four main parish churches each, dedicated to one of the four Evangelists, San Mateo, San Marco, San Lucas, and San Juan. The main mosque became the Main Church dedicated to El Salvador, and the two smallest mosques became wine cellars. There is also a mosque which was used as a bodega in La Almona, Sanlucar de Barrameda. The wines that reposed in these cellars were sweet caramelised reds or arropados, sweet reds with added must concentrate, and sweet raisin wines with added honey.
The Low Middle Ages and the Renaissance
During this period the wood used for construction was, thanks to the trade agreements of the time, imported fir from Sweden, Latvia and even Russia. The elastic and resistant properties of this long-fibred wood, which is practically knot-free, meant that the vanes in buildings could be made larger and consequently larger cellars could be built. Several of such buildings are still to be seen in the region. During this period, the great majority of wines produced were still arropados, (wines with added must concentrate) and liqueur wines.
Following the discovery of America, the great majority of the Religious Orders founded convents and monasteries in Seville, Cadiz, El Puerto de Santa Maria and Sanlucar de Barrameda, in order to house and prepare the missionaries bound for the Indies. In these convents, the missionaries would learn indigenous languages, culture and medicine. All of the convents and monasteries had their own small, vaulted, brick-built cellars on the ground floor, the building's principal rooms occupying the first floor. These cellars were ill ventilated and thus biological ageing with "flor" was impossible. Consequently the wines, mainly Olorosos for use at Mass, were simply cask-aged. After Mendizabal's Disentailment, some of these monasteries and convents passed into private hands, and were converted into cellars.
The Mansions of the Merchants
Throughout the 16th Century, Genoese and German Merchants settled in Seville in order to trade with the Indies. In the late 17th Century, when the town of Cadiz won the privilege of being the home port for the Indies fleet (1680), previously in Seville and above all, when the Casa de Contratacian (which regulated trade with the Indies) moved to Cadiz in 1717, the merchants also moved to Cadiz, El Puerto de Santa Maria and Sanlucar de Barrameda, building splendid mansions. These mansions boasted beams of precious woods such as mahogany and ebony which were brought back as ballast by the returning ships. The Mansion of the "Indies Merchants" boasted well-insulated ground floor cellars where they kept their vintage Olorosos.
These buildings' characteristics are unique and bear little relationship to the region's construction techniques. A good example of this group of cellars is the Bertemati cellar, a luxurious construction in Jerez's calle Porvenir built using rich materials and architectural elements such as vaults and domes. Also worthy of mention is the la Concha cellar built by Gustave Eiffel to mark the visit of Queen Isabel II to Jerez in 1862.
The cathedral-bodegas, thus termed by the British writer and traveller Richard Ford, are
buildings exclusively used for the ageing of wines previously obtained and fermented in other buildings (usually in far-houses located in the vineyards). The cathedral-cellars have very high, steep, double-pitched roofs supported by tall pillars and rows of arches where the butts are lined up in rows three or four butts high, one on top of the other. Although the construction of this type of cellar goes back to the end of the 18th Century, it became widespread when Finos and Manzanillas began to be made at the beginning of the 19th Century. This particular ageing process requires very tall buildings, capable of producing a special microclimate through thermal insulation. In many cases, their construction was financed by the "returning capital" of the Spanish businessmen who came back from Latin America after the colonies gained their independence.
Visit the Sherry Bodegas
The Jerez Region's impressive bodegas are undoubtedly one of the area's main tourist attractions. A large number of houses in the Denomination of Origin have their own visitor facilities, welcoming both group or individual visits.