When we entered the ocean heading east, I thought that I would catch sight of the rocks of Gibraltar, but I couldn' t see them even with the binoculars. A great illusion, indeed. Our destination was Cádiz which, of course, we didn't see, but we were fortunate that the Atlantic offered us a smooth cruise along the Spanish coast. After an hour, the narrow peninsula where Cádiz was built, came within view and by the time we arrived, I was standing on the upper deck contemplating how much History loved me. I was sent on this voyage to discover the Age of Exploration in the 15th century, and here I was floating on the depths of ancient times. And yes, as the yacht was approaching the port, a bunch of Phoenicians some 3.000 years ago, sailed across Gibraltar and entered the ocean without knowing where they were going. They stopped on a thin strip of land and built a colony, which they called Agadir (today‟s Cádiz).
Afterwards, they continued south to the West African coast and looking far away into the ocean, they realized that the Earth was spherical. Next, the Greeks crossed the same strait which they called Pillars of Hercules and settled in Agadir changing its name to Gadeira (Γάδειρα). And finally, the Romans arrived in 206 BC. to give the city a Latin name, Gȃdês, from which the Arabs in 711 converted into Qȃdir to obtain the final name Cádiz from the Spanish in 1262 with the Reconquista. Τhis remarkable past for a town of 120.000 inhabitants, the oldest inhabited city in Europe, is quite interesting. When we entered the harbour, I couldn't help thinking how “lonely” Cádiz would be in the old days. A city by itself on the shores of the ocean that everyone wanted to conquer and plunder from the raids of Barbary corsairs to the raids by Sir Francis Drake.
However, the Spaniards kept it strong and during the Age of Exploration, Cádiz experienced a splendid Renaissance and became Spain‟s home port of the Spanish Treasure Fleet. “Meaning?” I asked Isabella when we were having lunch on the upper deck looking at the buildings of the city. Isabella was from Peru and I knew I would get the right answer. “Well”, she replied, “these were the convoys that transported exotic goods such as gold, silver, pearls, sugar, tobacco from the overseas colonies of the Spanish Empire to the Spanish mainland”. She also added that in the 18th century the sandbars of the Guadalquivir compelled the Spanish government to transfer its American trade from Seville to Cádiz and the “lonely” town became one of Spain‟s most cosmopolitan cities and home to trading communities from many countries, the richest of which were the Irishmen. Her answer could not have been more enlightening. Impressed, I looked at the narrow slice of land surrounded by the sea with the great history, but very soon we waved goodbye to Captain Andreas to slide into another world: the vineyards.“Meaning?” I asked Isabella when we were having lunch on the upper deck looking at the buildings of the city. Isabella was from Peru and I knew I would get the right answer. “Well”, she replied, “these were the convoys that transported exotic goods such as gold, silver, pearls, sugar, tobacco from the overseas colonies of the Spanish Empire to the Spanish mainland”.
She also added that in the 18th century the sandbars of the Guadalquivir compelled the Spanish government to transfer its American trade from Seville to Cádiz and the “lonely” town became one of Spain‟s most cosmopolitan cities and home to trading communities from many countries, the richest of which were the Irishmen. Her answer could not have been more enlightening. Impressed, I looked at the narrow slice of land surrounded by the sea with the great history, but very soon we waved goodbye to Captain Andreas to slide into another world: the vineyards.
JEREZ DE LA FRONTERA
The combination between ocean and hinterland, organized by Variety Cruises was superb. From the sea breeze, we found ourselves rolling on golden hills in the outskirts of the city of Jerez de la Frontera, where the vineyards were undulating harmoniously. There weren't many houses on the horizon, but large estates, the so-called fincas.
80 wineries were located in the area. The city welcomed us in the early afternoon. Built inside the Arabic walls with the Alcázar - the residence of the Moorish Caliphs - its aspect has changed after the Reconquista.
A little Renaissance-style, a bit of Baroque-style, but mostly with nice buildings and windows framed with the characteristic yellow-ochre colour, so typical of the whitewashed towns and villages of Andalusia (Pueblos Biancos), whose tint becomes more vivid under the intense rays of the sun and the blue sky. The pulse of Jerez is: horses, flamenco and Sherry.
“Our vineyards cover 800 hectares, we don't buy grapes, and the queen of our grapes is called Palomino which is used for the dry Sherry, called "Fino”, she told us as we gathered around her to look at the rows of barrels. They are made of American oak wood; are stacked atop each other and end up in a shape nicknamed “the Cathedral”.
The barrels on the ground contain the oldest years of Sherry, the solero; and the top contains the youngest years. As 1/3 of Sherry from the bottom is removed for bottling, the wine stored on top is moved down to the next layer, eventually making its way to the bottom. The top row of barrels are replenished with the most recent wine, so Sherries are not vintage wines, being blends from different harvests. “Madam, don't you understand my English?” the gracious lady asked me when timidly I requested to repeat the procedure which sounded too perplexing to follow.
She explained it again moving her hands delicately and then continued telling us that this system was very old. It went back to the 19th century because the English market wanted to have the same wine year after year. Next, she dived into History lowering her voice in a confidential way: “The word Sherry is an anglicisation of Jerez” she revealed to us. “When Sir Francis Drake invaded Cádiz in 1587 and left with 3.000 barrels of Sherry, the British have been addicted to it. They continue to be our main international clients, but they prefer the so-called "cream" Sherry which is sweeter, while we prefer the dry crystal-clear Fino, the Tio Pepe”. “Tio Pepe?” I repeated raising my eyebrows.
«Yes, madam. Tio Pepe was the uncle of the founder of the company to whom he dedicated the Fino wine, and you can still see the barrels of Tio Pepe Sherry, dating back to 1835”, she said and showed us some old, dusty barrels. “And now ladies and gentlemen look at these other barrels” she went on moving us to another space, “they are signed by opera singers, Omar Sharif, Roger Moore, Lana Turner, Liz Taylor, all invited by the González family. And here look at the Spanish Royal Family, King Felipe VI, Queen Letizia, King Juan Carlos, Doňa Sophia… all having been exquisitely hosted here too.” She looked so joyful and proud as she guided us from one space to the other. Fascinated, we were wandering through these spaces with the 4.000 barrels going in and out and crossing alleys, shaped in delightful pergolas. “Oh, yes, madam, I am a very happy lady. I am from Jerez she told me when we said good-bye, after helping me to pick the sweetest Sherry and a book about the González family's history to remember this unique experience.
We returned to Cádiz when the sun was setting. The ocean was awaiting us to show its magnificence. The few hours of my escapade to the hinterland was a unique experience that matured inside me the deep sense of traveling. I felt like the Nectar Sherry I was holding in my hands, getting richer, bodied, full of the aroma of ripened grapes.
by Barbara Athanassiadis, a travel writer
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