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FOOD & DRINK

The surprising connection between Spanish sherry and the British and Irish

The southwest of Spain may be known as the sherry capital of the world, but it in fact has a surprising connection to England, Scotland and Ireland.

The surprising connection between Spanish sherry and the British and Irish
Revellers drink typical "rebujito" (Sherry with lemon soda) during a local fiesta. During the 18th and 19th century, Jerez de la Frontera attracted many bourgeois foreigners and their families, including Britons and Irish, who helped develop the sherry industry into what it is today. (Photo by CRISTINA QUICLER / AFP)

Spain’s sherry triangle sits in the southwest of the country in the province of Cádiz and lies between the cities and towns of Jerez de la Frontera, Sanlúcar de Barrameda, and El Puerto de Santa María.

It’s a Protected Designation of Origin (DOP) region, meaning that only the white fortified wine grown and made here can be called sherry.

Sherry is predominantly made from the white palamino grapes and the region’s chalky albariza soil full of limestone, it’s hot summers, mild winters and high humidity make it perfect to cultivate them.

Jerez de la Frontera is the capital of this wine region and its streets are lined with sherry tabancos fronted by old sherry barrels and locals sipping glasses of fino.

However, sherry wouldn’t be the celebrated sherry drink it is today in this part of Spain without the legacy set up by the British and the Irish some 250 years ago.

1865 drawing of sherry barrels stacked up inside the González and Byass winery, in Jerez de la Frontera “. Image: The Universal Museum/Public Domain

In Jerez, you’ll see signs hidden signs of the British everywhere, from the sherry posters, the names on the walls of the cellars, to the labels on the bottles and even the names of some of the types of sherry such as cream and pale cream.

Wine has been produced in the southwest of Spain since Roman times, but it wasn’t until later that sherry was produced. It was first imported to the UK in the 13th and 14th centuries and become known by the English name sherry, instead of the Spanish name – jerez.

Sherry sales saw growth in the UK after the marriage of Catherine of Aragon with King Henry VIII.

It is said that she often complained saying: “The King, my husband, keeps the best wines from the Canary Islands and Jerez for himself”.

Shakespeare’s Falstaff and his affection for Sherry “sack” also did much to spread the reputation of the drink. Painting´: Eduard von Grützner

From 1587 onwards, sherry became particularly popular in Great Britain, when Sir Francis Drake supplied taverns around the country with several thousand sherry casks he brought back when he captured the port of Cádiz.

Sir Frances Drake brought sherry back from Cádiz. Photo: Ann Longmore-Etheridge / Flickr

But it wasn’t until the 1700s that British merchants actually started investing in the sherry trade and opening up their own bodegas in Spain.

One of these was Scot James Duff, whose sherry business was developed by his nephew William Gordon and then taken over by their friend Thomas Osborne. Their business became the well-known sherry brand Duff-Gordon, which was later renamed, Osborne.

Osborne sherry has become famous around the world due its iconic logo of a Spanish bull, seen on bull-shaped billboards across Spain. Photo: Volker Schoen / Pixabay

Today, they are one of the biggest sherry producers in Spain and the Bodegas de Mora Osborne are one of the most famous in El Puerto de Santa María, which can be visited on a tour.

Another was William Garvey, a rich Irish farmer. It is said that he came to Cádiz to buy merino sheep, but instead ended up establishing himself as a wine merchant, first in Sanlúcar and later in Jerez. In 1824 his son Patrick took over the company and set up the Bodegas San Patricio. Today, these bodegas, located in Jerez de la Frontera are some of the biggest in the region.

The Tío Pepe wine factory in Cádiz. The famous sherry producers also have British links, as their holding company – González Byass – carries the name of Robert Blake Byass, a renowned English wine merchant. Photo: María Renée Batlle Castillo/Flickr

More and more British followed suit with Sir Alexander Williams and Arthur Humbert creating their own bodegas in 1877 and Spaniard Manuel María González partnering with Englishman Robert Blake Byass in 1835 to create one of the most well-known sherry bodegas today – González Byass.

Today, even though most of the sherry producers are Spanish, many can trace their family origins back to the British, from Sandeman and Harveys to Terry.

So next time you’re sipping a manzanilla or fino sherry in a tabanco in Jerez, you might want to raise a glass to the British and Irish ancestors who made it possible. 

Member comments

  1. I really enjoyed reading about the connection of UK & Irish with the sherry industry. Most interesting.

    I would also add that because the Irish were Catholics there were a lot of intermarriages with the Spanish.
    I never knew Jerez meant sherry – you learn something new every day

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WEATHER

Why parts of Spain are the driest they’ve been in 1,200 years

Parts of Spain and Portugal are the driest they've been in over 1,000 years, according to research published on Monday which warns of severe implications for wine and olive production in the Iberian Peninsula.

Why parts of Spain are the driest they've been in 1,200 years

The Azores High, an area of high pressure that rotates clockwise over parts of the North Atlantic, has a major effect on weather and long term climate trends in western Europe.

But in a new modelling study published in the journal Nature Geoscience, researchers in the United States found this high-pressure system “has changed dramatically in the past century and that these changes in North Atlantic climate are unprecedented within the past millennium”.

Using climate model simulations over the last 1,200 years, the study found that this high-pressure system started to grow to cover a greater area around 200 years ago, as human greenhouse gas pollution began to increase.

It expanded even more dramatically in the 20th century in step with global warming.

The authors then looked at evidence of rainfall levels preserved over hundreds of years in Portuguese stalagmites, and found that as the Azores High has expanded, the winters in the western Mediterranean have become drier.

The study cites projections that the level of precipitation could fall a further 10 to 20 percent by the end of this century, which the authors say would make Iberian agriculture “some of the most vulnerable in Europe”.

They warn that the Azores High will continue to expand during the 21st century as greenhouse gas levels rise, leading to an increasing risk of drought on the Iberian Peninsula and threatening key crops.

“Our findings have important implications for projected changes in western Mediterranean hydroclimate throughout the twenty-first century,” the authors said.

researchers have predicted a 30-percent drop in production for olive regions in southern Spain by 2100. (Photo by RAYMOND ROIG / AFP)

Wither on the vines

The Azores High acts as a “gatekeeper” for rainfall into Europe, according to the study, with dry air descending in the summer months to cause hot, arid conditions in much of Portugal, Spain and the western Mediterranean.

In the cool, wetter winter period, the high-pressure system swells, sending westerly winds carrying rain inland.   

This winter rain is “vital” for both the ecological and economic health of the region, but it has been decreasing, particularly over the second half of the 20th century.

While previous research had not untangled the effects of natural variability on the Azores High, the authors said their findings show its expansion during the industrial era is linked to the rise of atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations.

A study cited in the latest research estimates that the area suitable for grape growing in the Iberian Peninsula could shrink by at least a quarter and potentially vanish almost completely by 2050 because of severe water shortages.

Meanwhile, researchers have predicted a 30-percent drop in production for olive regions in southern Spain by 2100.

Winemakers are already looking for ways to adapt to the changing climate, such as moving vineyards to higher altitudes and experimenting with more heat-tolerant varieties.

Last year, scientists found that a severe spring frost that ravaged grape vines in France was made more likely by climate change, with the plants budding earlier and therefore more susceptible to damage.

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