When Diego arrived in Bar El Porron, I wasn’t sure how to initiate introductions. The owner of the bar is a mutual friend, and arranged for us to meet on a Saturday morning for coffee. Once introduced, we had a lovely conversation about sherry, life in the vineyard, working in the bodega and the art of using the venencia.
The venencia is a small cylinder cup attached to a long rod used to extract sherry from the barrel without disturbing the flor yeast layer protecting the wine. Diego is a venenciador – a person who has mastered this technique as an art form. It takes a lot of skill to arch the venencia overhead and pour the wine into the tightlipped copa from a considerable height without spilling a drop! (There are plenty of examples online.)
What’s unique about Diego is seven years ago he went blind from diabetes, yet he hasn’t lost his skills. He comes to this bar on Saturday afternoons to teach those in the area wanting to learn to be a venenciador(a). He said to me it doesn’t matter how young or old you are when you start, the key is to practice, practice, practice.
On the small patio out front on Calle Empedrada, he sets up a bucket of water, a couple venencias and glasses for anyone to learn. See how he does it here. (The older gentleman watching is the bar owner’s father – he tried using the venencia for the first time that day!)
One student was a young lady named Paula. She practiced over and over. She told me her goal was to be good enough to be hired for weddings, birthdays and first communion celebrations. This is usually the goal for most students.
Anyone with venencia skills who works in a bodega are typically the enologos – or wine experts. The enologos have to repeatedly go through anywhere from 80 up to 800 barrels a day using the same technique, but they choke up on the handle and don’t pour from great heights. It still aerates the wine, but doesn’t burn out their shoulder in the process!
Paula encouraged me to try and not be afraid. The perfectionist inside of me was totally intimidated to try, knowing I’d fail the first time. So like Paula, I tried, then tried again, each time improving a bit as I became familiar with the venencia. I gained a little more confidence when a car drove by with the passengers giving me a thumbs up. That’s the theme in this city – be brave, give it a try and don’t give up. Diego sure didn’t let the loss of his sight keep him from doing what he loves.