Prior to heading to Jerez, a fellow sherry blogger highly recommended I visit Spirit Sherry to get out in the vineyard. After a few emails and even a Skype conversation, I was very excited for my visit Friday April 17th. Spirit Sherry is a small wine tourism business teaching the world about the birthplace of sherry. Their tour packages explain the link between man, vine and soil, allowing visitors to immerse themselves in culture, tradition and the customs behind sherry wines. I planned my entire trip to learn about sherry from grape to glass. So, I went all out and paid for a private tour to spend most of the day with them. My experience was worth way more than the 50 euro I paid. Continue reading and you’ll see why!
Eduardo Valderas Otero picked me up near my apartment in Barrio San Miguel. Because of our previous Facebook and email interactions, he felt like an old friend and our conversation picked up where we left off. The same applies to Cecilia Rodriguez Roa. She was very good at staying in touch while setting up the logistics for my visit. They both work very well together and make their guests feel at home! The vineyard La Viña Zarzuela is just outside the city of Jerez. José Manuel Bustillo has owned it for the past seven years. He and I met in passing, but my education was in the hands of Eduardo and Cecilia. This was the true test to see if my B.A., in Spanish was up to snuff, because those two talk fast with little pause for breath. But who doesn’t talk excitedly when they’re living out their passion?! I was handed a picture book to help me follow along so I wasn’t completely lost, especially since most of this vocabulary was brand new to me. Naturally, we started our discussion with the Sherry Triangle (the three cities of the protected sherry region: Jerez de la Frontera, El Puerto de Santa Maria and Sanlúcar de Barrameda), the types of grapes grown (we mostly discussed Palomino Fino), and the soils needed (we focused our discussion on Albariza Superior). I was surprised when they told me that vineyards are not watered. What moisture is absorbed and maintained by the albariza soil is it! I was surprised by how spongy the soil becomes when it’s wet. Watch this clip to see it! It is also white when dry, which is both reflective and protective during the hot summer months. The roots of Palomino Fino are also a key player. They are very fine, about the width of a hair. They reach down about seven meters, but they can stretch almost 16 to 17 meters across! As we walked along, I didn’t realize we were also drinking our way through a sherry flight. At the soil, we had a lovely cold glass of Fino from El Maestro Sierra where Eduardo also works. As we talked about the vines, I was handed a glass of Bustillo’s home batch of Amontillado. Bustillo also grows varieties of grapes for eating – some I’ve never even heard of. The soil does really well for his vegetables, olives, even roses. As we sipped on a glass of Bustillo’s Oloroso, Cecilia told me that thorny rose bushes are planted at the end of each row to help keep a very tired donkey from trampling the vines when plowing the rows.
My favorite moment was sitting at the lunch table with Eduardo, Cecilia, Bustillo, and another friend. I loved listening to them all share about their families, education, travel and of course life on the vineyard. We watched the African swallows fly in and out of their nests above our heads as we ate meats, cheese, bread, and stew all the while drinking more sherry from Bustillo’s barrels. My favorite was a bottle of Amontillado Fino. It’s hard to describe – it’s was essentially like a light-bodied Amontillado. The final dish was strawberry shortcake with cream and drizzled with Amoroso. It was delicious! (Amoroso is essentially a Medium, but it’s an Oloroso with just a drop of PX. The tale is that when husbands were coming home late from the bar, they’d bring a bottle of sweetened Oloroso to appease their wives.) Needless to say, I helped myself to three pieces.
I really did not want to leave these new friends. Yet, our meal and education was over, and university students studying viticulture began to arrive. My heart and stomach were full and I blissfully kissed my goodbyes with the hopes I’ll return very soon. Side note: On my last day in Jerez, I was able to meet very briefly with Eduardo and Cecilia to say farewell. They surprised me with some lovely little “recuerdo” gifts and a bottle of Bustillo’s Amontillado Fino. My visit far exceeded my expectations! They are passionate about what they are teaching. It is unlike any other sherry experience. If you come to Jerez wanting to learn about sherry – be sure to start with Spirit Sherry in the vineyard!