The lagar, in which the grapes are trodden and pressed, is a rectangular wooden trough, 12 feet square and about 2 feet deep, with a 6-foot iron screw in the centre; its floor rests dalmore 1973 30 year oldupon four legs about 3 feet high: it has a lip, with a funnel attached to it, through which the sweet grape-juice flows straight into tubs and then into casks, where it ferments away from grape stalks and skins.
The lagar is half filled with 60 hampers of grapes, 1, 500 lb. in all, which are evenly distributed and sprinkled with 3 to 4 lb. of yeso, or gypsum. Then the pisadores, or treaders, usually four together, enter the lagar, shod with shoes studded with projecting nails. They goose-step solemnly and rhythmically up and down the mass of grapes in the lagar, from midnight to dawn, and when they leave off, the trodden pulp is heaped round the iron screw and held together by an esparto grass broad tape. The lid of the press is then screwed down on this heap, bringing up to 9° per cent. of the total the grape-juice trodden and pressed out of the grapes. The remaining 20 per cent. extracted later by an hydraulic press is, however, of distinctly inferior quality and never mixed with the juice of the first flow.
A few hours after the grapes have been pressed, the casks are taken from the vineyards to the bodegas. There the sweet juice starts fermenting ‘furiously’, and it soon casts off a scum of ‘undesirables’ at the bung-hole of the cask in which it is lodged, in the dark and cool Bodegas. Presently the new wine settles down in peace to a slow, steady second fermentation during which the characteristics of its own idiosyncrasies are developed under the screen of thin flor, or yeast. Then it is that the experts taste every cask, containing no longer mosto but vino de anada, and they decide which criadera, or nursery, will be the right one for each wine to go to: that which possesses outstanding distinction is sent to the Palma criadera; that which has more muscle than breed goes to the Palo Cortado and the stoutest of all to the Rayas criaderas. After being racked off their lees and before being sent to their allotted criadera to age, the wines, which are by this time quite dry, are given a fair taste of brandy, about 4 gallons per butt, and this rules out all possibility of any further fermentation.
There was a time when at Jerez, wines from different vineyards and years were kept apart, unblended; they were called Anadas or Vintages. With age the Anadas wines acquired greater body, higher strength, and darker color, making it difficult to build up and keep up constant and ample supplies of Sherry wines of those types and styles for which the demand was greater. Hence the Solera system, introduced long ago and now universally adopted.
The Solera is the Spanish method of equalization and rejuvenation of Sherry wines by the gradual introduction of younger wines to older ones. Butts of Sherry, containing wine of one and the same sort, are stacked in tiers, the younger wine above and the older below. To make up his blends, the Sherry shipper draws as much as he wishes from the butts of the bottom tier; the quantity drawn is replaced by wine from the butts immediately above, these are replenished with wine from the next tier, and so on until the topmost tier, the butts of which are filled up with wine from the right Criaderas, where the young Palma, Palo Cortado, Rayas, and oilier wines are kept during the early years of their development. A fortified wine from Andalusia produced only in and around the town of Jerez in the Cadiz region. The Spanish producers have since registered the Sherry / Jerez / Xeres name and will prosecute anyone else in the world trying to use it. It is thought that Jerez has exported wines since at least Roman times. Today Sherry accounts for the largest portion of Spain’s wine exports, reaching no less than fifty countries and making superb profits for the winery owners. The wine attained “domain d’origen” (DO) status in 1933.
The traditions of Jerez and wine go back over two thousand years, thousands of amphora were shipped to Rome, and the high alcohol content meant that the wine travelled well without spoiling. From the 12th century wine from the region was exported to England. England are long-time consumers of the beverage and the name “sherry” comes from the Arab word for the city of Jerez – “Seris” or “Sherish” evolved into the word we know today.
Sherry’s popularity continued to bloom and by the 16th century it was thought to be the finest of all wines. Sherry’s popularity continued to grow and a boom in the 19th century meant that producers could barely keep up with the demands of northern Europe, particularly England and Holland, who remain the two biggest consumers of the wine today. The output has stabilised in recent times and the value of the wine has gone up, increasing profitability for the Spanish producers.
The Sherry region is located in several towns around Jerez de la Frontera in the Cadiz region of Andalusia; there is also a small producing area in the neighbouring province of Seville. The area is typified by rolling hills and limestone soil that has the superb water retention necessary to see out the dry summer months. The average temperature in the growing season in 17. 5°C and moisture is carried to the vines by westerly winds coming in from the sea. This softens the arid summer climate of the region and also takes the sting out of the warm westerly winds. With 270 sunny days every year and no frosts or hail, conditions are ideal for viticulture, aided by steady rainfall between the moths of October and may.
There are three main grape varieties used to create Sherry – Palamino Fino, Pedro Jimenez and Moscatel, the latter two being mainly used in the production of sweet sherry. The real secret of Sherry’s production lies in what is known as the “Crianza” process. After the grapes are harvested and pressed they undergo a first fermentation for ten days. After a few months the wine is ready for classification. For this process, a taster is needed and it is crucial that his/her sense of smell and taste in highly developed and the taster must determine which type the wines are going to be. This unique process allows the wine to grow on its own and develop naturally into the most suitable type of sherry. There are four main types that are produced: Fino – a pale a delicate sherry, Amotillado which is an older, richer version of the Fino variety, Oloroso is a rich, dark mahogany coloured wine and the Cream sherry is a blend of Oloroso and the Pedro Jimenez grape and has a sweet finish to compliment its rich flavour.