Sherry: an export hit for 3000 years
From wine made in Sherish to Sherry
It is rare that the history of the trade and the development of a drink can be traced so perfectly through one product as is possible with the wine from the region around Jerez. This is a striking illustration of how craftsmanship, creativity, lobbying and successful trading policies have led to considerable success over the millennia.
A centuries-old benchmark of quality
The roots of viticulture in the Jerez region date back to the Phoenicians who, according to the Greek geographer Strabon, brought vines from Lebanon to Xérés (Greek for "dry", with the Romans later changing its name to Ceres) around 1,100 BC and began cultivating vines there. Their wines were prized and distributed throughout the Mediterranean. Centuries later, wine from Ceres was a high-quality product traded under the name "Vinum Ceretensis". Under the subsequent Moorish period, the winegrowers managed to save a large proportion of the vines by successfully convincing the Muslims to stop producing wine for drinking purposes. Instead, grapes were turned into sultanas for the holy warriors and wine was only to be used for purely medicinal purposes. The vines survived, as did the art of viticulture, and after the Christian Reconquista wine from Ceres quickly became a popular export again. The English in particular were already fond of the coveted drink from Sherish, the English name for Ceres (from which sherry was later derived) as far back as the 11th and 12th centuries.
Sherry arrived in the New World with the Spanish conquistadors, and the continuing enthusiasm of the English also allowed the sherry trade to flourish all over the world. Small family businesses and trading offices run by Englishmen, Scotsmen, Irishmen or Spaniards returning from South America developed into worldwide companies, some of which, such as Sandeman or Williams & Humbert, still thrive on the market today. In order to prevent imitations, the city of Jerez set out the first binding rules on designation of origin as early as 1483 (!). The D.O. Jerez, which is still valid today, was officially established in 1935 and to this day protects these names as a designation of origin: Jerez-Xérès sherry, Manzanilla and Sanlúcar de Barrameda. Since 1994, it has also applied to vinegar made from sherry (Vinagre de Jerez D.O.).
Read more in the next blog: Sherry - The art of fortification, ageing and quality.