It’s hard to believe, as I huddle inside my Portland home from the snowy exterior that only four months ago I was sweating through the days of harvest in Jerez. Even more surprising is el mosto, the juice that was pressed and fermented at harvest, is officially ready to be fortified to continue the blending process of the soleras. Where did the time fly?
After the success of my first Sherry Odyssey in the spring of 2015, I knew I must come back at harvest. I wanted to understand sherry from grape to glass. Yet by the end of my first visit, apart from seeing the vines, I primarily visited bodegas, enjoying copious amounts of the finished product. This time around, I went back to two of my favorite locations to really get a feel for both traditional and modern harvest methods.
My first visit to Spirit Sherry was an instant connection of friendship and I could not wait to go back! Last year they were at La Zarzuela vineyards, but have moved to another location close by, appropriately named La Hija de la Z. It’s much more rustic with a gorgeous view, and the perfect experience to step back in time.
Eduardo picked me up in Jerez first thing in the morning. The temperatures were rapidly rising to well over 100˚F. (I think that day it got to 41˚C.) Two other young ladies joined me, ready for some harvest fun! I really didn’t know what I was getting into. I knew I would be cutting grapes, then stomping them. I wasn’t sure if I was going to have a lot of fun, or if I was setting myself up to be like Lucille Ball stomping grapes in Italy, ending in a wrestling match.
Before we began, Eduardo and Cecilia gave us a little lesson on the regulations in place to ensure harvest is successful. Sugars ferment and convert to alcohol. Palomino grapes require a minimum of 10.5% to be able to reach the alcoholic strength, as well as the right acidity levels to keep from going through malolactic fermentation. When these levels are perfect, THAT is when harvest is permitted. Every vineyard harvests at the same time.
The health of the grape is also very important. This year the weather created several challenges for the grapes, especially in the case of mildew. Fortunately, the solera blending process makes up for when there’s a bad harvest, even though it still presents a challenge when the majority of the grapes are still being handpicked.
Spirit Sherry experiences are fun and educational! We weren’t expected to harvest for the entire day, let alone an entire row. For hand cutting, everyone worked on the same line, taking the cluster and cutting it close to the top where the stalk meets the supporting branch. Sometimes it was hard to find the main stock, since the grapes wind and tangle around each other.
After each of us filled our own basket, we helped carry them back to a shaded area and lined them up in a row on the ground. Ana, Marta and I were instructed to take off our shoes and socks and step right into the buckets, while holding each other’s shoulders for support. With a little help of some salsa music, we stomped the grapes to the beat. After many giggles and sloshing, we each cleaned off then took our buckets over to a table where we macerated the rest with our hands through a sieve.
Spirit Sherry is all about tradition. The must from Palomino grapes was poured into a glass jars to ferment. Because of the low acidity, Eduardo added tartaric acid to aid the fermentation process. Rather than blending our must into a solera, Spirit Sherry uses it for their delicious table wine.
The rest of the afternoon was spent in the shade of a tree eating delicious tapas and pastries with glasses of sherry. It’s moments like these when I’m glad my Spanish is just good enough to catch most of the jokes and local gossip. Despite the heat, despite the flies, despite even the sad, feral dogs that roam the vineyard, I felt at home and was proud to play a part in making something that will be enjoyed later in the years to come.
Stay tuned next week for part 2 – my return visit to Covijerez to see their mass mosto production!