Friday, October 22, 2010
Sherry Bodegas: Beware The Aliens!
Richard Ford, the author of A Handbook for Travellers in Spain (published in 1845), thought that the bodegas resembled cathedrals. Many later writers would, understandedly, adopt that same simile as they do bear some resemblance to cathedrals. I visited nine bodegas and it was obvious to me why so many have made this comparison. But another writer, Rupert Croft-Cooke, had a different view, stating "But it might also be thought of as a great hive with thousands of cylindrical cells in which the living wine matures." (Sherry, p.115) That view also has some validity, and is in line with the feeling I received in some of the bodegas.
Most bodegas are lofty, with their ceilings as high as forty feet or so, to help keep the bodegas cool. This adds to the feeling that you are in a cathedral. The ceilings are so high as it is believed that the volume of air in the bodegas should be about eighteen times as that of the volume of wine. Good air circulation is necessary for the flor and most underground wine cellar lack the proper circulation.
The floors of bodegas are commonly a mix of sand, lime and iron oxide. During very hot and dry weather, the floors may be sprayed with water two to three times a week. This water will soak into the floor and evaporate slowly, helping to keep the temperatures low and increase the humidity. As it was hot and dry when I visited Jerez, I saw some of the water spraying, and the bodegas were very humid. The humidity helps to reduces the rate of evaporation of the sherry in the barrels and promotes the growth of the flor.
The caps on the bungholes sit loosely, allowing some air into the bota, which is also very different from much of the rest of the wine industry which abhors allowing air to affect their wines in the barrel. Some of the bodegas have signed barrels, sometimes by visiting celebrities, from Winston Churchill to John Lennon, and other times by regular visitors, who thus gain a measure of immortality.
My tour of the various bodegas was a fascinating and informative journey, showcasing an intriguing alternative to the usual wine cellars. If you get the chance, you should visit the sherry bodegas too.