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In Search of the Soul of Jerez. Part I

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Buscando el Alma de Jerez. I parte

Every city has colors and scents that distinguish it from the rest. It’s not the signs of the spring with the distinctive fragrance of our many orange trees, or the exquisite scent that welcomes the summertime when the night-blooming flowers come into play; it’s not either the jasmine that floods the streets of Jerez with its aroma, or the milky jacaranda flower… Jerez has “duende”, a word you’d hear in the quarters of Santiago or San Miguel; it has a “soul” that still in the XXI century survives the devastation of the aggressive capitalism, the pollution and the mass destruction by the higher ups towards our heritage.

PorveraJerez, as known by our parents and grandparents, smelled like wine, a fragrance that pervaded the streets from the wineries in the city belt that somehow acted like a second wall. The soul of Jerez smelled like sherry wine. Many of those Mudejar-style nineteenth-century wineries are now demolished because of the nonsense of those in power. The scent of Jerez, its soul, seemed to have been forced into exile or have just disappeared. However, the devotees of Jerez, of its scent, are now invited to a route of hope that I walked myself as a proof that our streets still emanate the scent of sherry wine.

Our route starts in the quarter of La Plata. We find ourselves at the door of the church of Santa Ana. The sky is clear and we decide to go into the arteries of Jerez; we take Lealas street, a beautiful road that ends in one of the spots that I find most charming in Jerez: the crossing of Ancha and Porvera streets. As we walk through Lealas street, we notice an intense traffic that still allows us to feel the scent that flows from the windows of Sánchez Romate winery. The balsam of the amontillado wine is outstanding and it lets us sense the darkness and mystery of the wine cellar’s interior. Closer to Cervantes street, one can feel how the aroma intensifies and even caresses you in combination with the black façade of Cardenal Mendoza winery, a blackness caused by the vapours of the alcohol of its excellent brandy.
Calle LealasBodegas TradiciónWe continue our route through Ancha and Merced streets, in the quarter of Santiago, to the basilica of Virgen de la Merced, the patron saint of Jerez. Just in front of it, we can see the Almohade-style wall; we pass through it to visit the genuine quarter of San Mateo. Opposite to Tradición winery, in Cordobeses street and just at the back of Palacio Riquelme –a jewel of the Plateresque and Renaissance style which is in a very poor condition due to a bad administration–, we feel again the same scent that pervaded us in Lealas street. We cross a narrow street to get to Rincón Malillo, a set of streets that takes us back to the Middle Ages, a place of legends and demons fighting to death. The cobbled alleys give us shelter and the smell of Sherry from Tradición winery gets more and more intense. We look at the church of San Mateo and we feel overwhelmed by its presence and the tradition of these streets: this is the purest –and usually forgotten– Jerez. We only hear a lonely blackbird singing. The clouds appear in the sky as if by black magic, but the breeze still enlightens us with the aroma of VORS (Very Old Rare Sherry) of Tradición winery. I’m truly feeling like a child in the old medina of Jerez.

Calle San BlasLeaving the church of San Mateo and the famous Plaza del Mercado behind, we walk towards Puerta de Rota through San Blas street. The wineries here once belonged to the Domecq family, but now are in the hands of the multinational company Beam Global. In this narrow alley, something I didn’t expect strikes me: an impressive, almost spiritual scent of oloroso and vintage amontillado that makes me stop for a moment to enjoy. If I was looking for the soul of Jerez in a public place, undoubtedly this is the aroma of the purest Jerez. One feels overcome when such a singular quarter like San Mateo wraps you in and rewards you with this perfume. The silence and grandiosity that battle to survive the human greed are impressive. Then, we come across our friend and guitar player Chusco. We smiled at each other as I tell him, ‘How it smells, niño!’, pointing to the windows of Castillo winery. ‘It smells like Jerez!’, replies to me with a grind. San Blas street really smells like the old Jerez, friend Chusco.

Bodega el CastilloFinally at Puerta de Rota, we admire a big tower integrated in one of the wineries with cathedral cellar of the Domecq family, the Castillo winery. We distinguish here the most important periods in the history of Jerez: the XIII and XIX centuries. We head back again to San Blas street, through which it is said that the Castilian king Alfonso X the Wise entered the city after he definitely conquered Jerez from the Muslims. That time Jerez should have smelled of something different than wine.

Calle San YldefonsoAs we leave Castillo winery behind, we see the corner balcony of Palacio del Pantera. We reach San Ildefonso street and make a stop at Patio de las Parras where we enjoy the smell of Sherry that soaks the whole street. Patio de las Parras means silence, aroma of wine and woods, plastic beauty, freshness and sea breeze to me. Right in front of San Mateo Chico, a chapel built after the Lisbon earthquake caused ‘a little’ collapse in the main building of San Mateo… another story to be told. We pass by Fundador Pedro Domecq, the eldest winery in Jerez, founded in 1730; remains of that period can be seen on a visit to the winery. The wines sleep in five different cellars joined by private streets… this is a typical structure in these family-owned nineteenth-century wineries that makes them look like little villages.

Cuesta del Espíritu SantoLater on, we take Espíritu Santo street and leave the monastery of the Dominican sisters to the right. Taking the street downhill is a pleasure for the eyes. We make our way to the Cathedral, an impressive building for the catholic and cultural powers in the city. Next to it, we find the most famous –and the most visited– winery of Jerez, González Byass. This, similarly to Domecq, is formed by a little village devoted to the sherry wine and brandy. Some of the most beautiful and personal wineries in its interior are named Concha, Cuadrada, Apóstoles, Gran Bodega, Constancia or San Nicolás.

Bodegas González ByassDetails apart, we continue to Plaza de la Encarnación, greet the Pope and notice a sharp yet subtle aroma of Sherry coming from one of the railing windows of González Byass. This scent gets intensified by the beauty of this spot, a triangle formed by the main spiritual temples in Jerez: the mosque of the Muslim fortress, the impressive Cathedral to the left and the wine temple of González Byass to the right. This personal aroma wraps us with refinement in such a historical place. Absolutely amazing. To be continued…

Traducción realizada por los colaboradores de La Sacristía del Caminante: Mauricio Sánchez y Manuel Bote.

Route map


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