La Vendimia Pt. 1 – Back to Spirit Sherry

 

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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.

Spirit Sherry

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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!

A Sherry Adventure Starts in the Vineyard

Cuestión de CulturaPrior 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 SherrySpirit 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!

Photo courtesy of Abel Valdenebro Gutiérrez

Photo courtesy of Abel Valdenebro Gutiérrez

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! Viña la ZarzuelaThe 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. sherry in a nutshellNaturally, 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. roots + soilThe 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.

JosĂ© Manuel Bustillo B., Seana Yee, Eduardo Valderas O., Cecilia Rodriguez R. 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. presentsSide 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! Cecilia + Seana

Sherry Triangle Wish List

TradicionThis spring, with much support and encouragement from my husband, I will be traveling back to Jerez for the sole purpose of exploring the Marco de Jerez (AKA the Sherry Triangle).

Although my home base will be in Jerez, my Bodega Wish List includes small boutiques and larger establishments throughout the entire Sherry Triangle.

lightsAfter reading Peter Liem and Jesús Barquín’s Sherry, Manzanilla & Montilla, and Talia Baiocchi’s SHERRY, my bodega wish list only got longer:

JEREZ DE LA FRONTERA: Bodegas González Byass, Bodegas Emilio Hidalgo, Bodega El Maestro Sierra and hopefully connect with Equipo Navazos.

Over the last year, I have enjoyed meeting Sherry Ambassadors in Portland and really hope to visit their bodegas: Bodegas Rey Fernando de Castilla, Bodegas Emilio Lustau, and Valdespino (Grupo Estévez). Based on a friend’s referral, I also hope to connect with a smaller boutique Bodegas Urium. (I volunteer for an urban winery in Portland and have a special place in my heart for smaller operations.)

I recently wrote about my only bodega experience with Bodegas Tradición, and have since met its Director Lorenzo García-Iglesias a couple times in Portland. However, I may or may not have time to squeeze in a return visit with so many others to explore!

SANLUCAR DE BARRARMEDA: I would like to take a day trip to visit Bodegas Barbadillo, Bodegas Hidalgo – La Gitana, Bodega Hijos de Rainera PĂ©rez MarĂ­n (La Guita), and especially Bodegas Delgado Zuleta simply for its history and age.

EL PUERTO DE SANTA MARIA: This may be a shorter visit, but based on recommendations I’d like to see Bodegas Gutiérrez Colosía and Bodegas Grant.

CHIPIONA: I hadn’t planned on visiting Chipiona, but I was strongly advised to see the King of Moscatel – Bodegas César Florido.

spiritsherryIdeally, I want to return from my trip with a firm understanding about sherry from grape to glass! Thanks to a mutual sherry lover and blogger Criadera, I’m excited to connect with her friends at Spirit Sherry tours to go out to the vineyards.

I really want to balance having a plan with letting things happen organically. To be honest, I’m not even sure how far in advance I should reach out to all these bodegas to set up an appointment. I haven’t figured out the bus or train routes. I’m not even sure how things will happen day to day. I have my plane ticket and my apartment reserved, and the rest will fall into place. Like the proverb says, Todo tiene solucion menos la muerte.