Andrew Jef­ford

‘I went back to Jerez ear­lier this year. It has changed ut­terly’

Decanter - - LETTERS - Andrew Jef­ford is a De­can­ter con­tribut­ing editor. Read his ‘Jef­ford on Mon­day’ blog on­can­­ford

Sherry waS the milk of my wine-drink­ing in­fancy. Bot­tles of tio Pepe and Bris­tol Cream would pa­rade un­der our Christ­mas tree (my father was a vicar), mak­ing a glass be­fore din­ner not too in­fre­quent a treat. It was also the in­vari­able pre­lude to the Sun­day lunch my mother laboured all morn­ing over, served once my father got back from church. I loved it. One sniff takes me back; the years drop away.

My ma­ter­nal grand­par­ents lived nearby and, when my broth­ers and I were old enough, they’d give us a pretty lit­tle cut glass of Find­later’s Dry Fly Sherry to sip af­ter the cake and the tea cups had been whisked away. at univer­sity, my an­glo-Saxon tu­tor lu­bri­cated our vow­els (and cre­ated bonhomie around the in­com­pre­hen­si­ble Be­owulf) with lash­ings of amon­til­lado. the staff of the lo­cal Un­win’s used to de­liver bot­tles of Sherry to my wife’s first mother-in-law once she couldn’t get out of the house: it in­spired much of the hi­lar­ity shared by the two in her de­clin­ing years. My own mother now lives in the abyssal world of puz­zles and mys­ter­ies com­mon to alzheimer’s suf­fer­ers, but the Sherry she and my father con­tinue to sip as dusk falls seems to bring some fa­mil­iar­ity, warmth, com­fort. you could write a so­ci­ol­ogy of Sherry in post-war, pre­mil­len­nium Bri­tain. No wine mat­tered more.

Not un­nat­u­rally, one of my first vis­its as a ju­nior in the late 1980s was to Jerez: an as­sured, bustling town seem­ingly packed with ware­houses, and a stop on all of the grand­est cir­cuits. I re­mem­ber the an­dalu­cian stage­fright in­spired at Lus­tau by the an­nounce­ment that Lord Sains­bury was to drop in by he­li­copter – at teatime. tea for an english Lord? how would they cope?

I went back to Jerez ear­lier this year. It has changed ut­terly. One of the for­mer Valde­spino bode­gas in the town cen­tre is a su­per­mar­ket; where the stacks of Ino­cente once slum­bered out their sol­era years, the cars now park, their driv­ers grate­ful for the sum­mer shade. Oth­ers, though, are rot­ting where they stand, like the terry’s bodega close to one of the towns prom­i­nent round­abouts.

the vine­yard scene is even more strik­ing. wheat is on the march, bit­ing its way into hill­side af­ter hill­side, lay­ing green siege to the white farms at their sum­mits, even on the finest al­bariza soils. Pho­to­voltaic pan­els now stare like gi­ant black sun­flow­ers where vines once swayed. a wind farm stalks hun­grily across Bal­baina. the 23,000 hectares of vine­yards there when I first vis­ited have shriv­elled to just 6,500ha now.

Names which seemed bank-like, a fa­mil­iar and se­cure a part of the Sherry land­scape, have been swept aside. the mighty Domecq, purringly urged on tV view­ers by Or­son welles and writ­ten into poems by Lorca, is dis­mem­bered. har­vey’s Bris­tol Cream is owned by a Chi­nese Filipino bil­lion­aire called andrew tan; he also stew­ards a size­able chunk of Gon­za­lez Byass’s as­sets. the multi­na­tion­als have scarpered, lit­ter­ing their for­mer brands on oth­ers, pend­ing even­tual ex­piry. Os­borne re­mains sig­nif­i­cant, but you won’t see the sil­hou­et­ted black bull glow­er­ing on the top of Jerez hill­sides any more; this Span­ish fam­ily com­pany, now with ma­jor Chi­nese share­hold­ers, prefers to dis­trib­ute red Bull (yes, truly) and fall back on its pork and other food busi­nesses.

there has been no more dra­matic story in the wine world over the past three decades than this one. Some­one should write a book about it…

and the fu­ture? Is this Göt­ter­däm­merung – or the prover­bial, pre-dawn dark­ness? we’ll see. Some De­can­ter read­ers will re­mem­ber the world I have de­scribed; for many, though, it will sound a lit­tle cu­ri­ous, in the same way that my par­ents’ sto­ries of post-war ra­tioning and dried eggs once sounded cu­ri­ous to me. those are the read­ers fre­quent­ing London’s lively Sherry-bar scene, toss­ing back au­then­tic co­pas of man­zanilla with their baby oc­to­pus and slices of jamón ibérico – and dis­cov­er­ing the grandeur of one of the wine world’s unique wine styles for the first time, via sin­gle-cask bot­tlings, sin­gle-vine­yard sher­ries, or in­no­va­tive un­for­ti­fied wines from the best sur­viv­ing vine­yards. what’s fin­ished for Jerez is vol­ume. will qual­ity en­dure?

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