Friday, 6 June 2014

The First "Wine Tourists" in Jerez

Behind the wine of Jerez hides an immensity of stories. During the XVIII and XIX centuries many aristocrats, men and women, travelled across the Iberian Peninsula dazzled by the prospect of a “Paradise of the South”. They came from Germany, Holland, Ireland, France and Britain and found themselves in an Andalucia at the height of its depression.

For these romantic travellers, contrary to the spirit of the Enlightenment, Andalucia was the most different region of Europe, the most African, the most scenic, and culturally, thanks to the lengthy period of Arab influence, the most exceptional, the most unpredictable and the most picturesque.

It is true that Seville, Cordoba, Granada, Ronda, even Gibraltar were the preferred destinations of the Romantic travellers. But it is undeniable that a great legion of these “early tourists”, writers and artists, were attracted by the famous wines of Jerez and the many wonderful buildings, which would later appear in their accounts of their journeys – perhaps the first tourist guides.

La Cartuja de Jerez (Foto Gente de Jerez)
Jerez historian Jose Luis Jimenez has managed to unearth the names of some 140 of these travellers in the late XVIII and first half of the XIX centuries. Without going into all of them, let’s look at the most famous ones from the busier latter period.

LORD BYRON
One of these pioneering tourists, eager to get to know the countryside, the flamenco and the wine was called George Noel Gordon Byron, Lord Byron. He set sail from Falmouth in July 1809 with his old school friend John Cam Hobhouse, arriving after a four and a half day crossing at Lisbon, whence they sent their luggage ahead to Gibraltar. A keen sportsman despite his lameness, he would later emulate the legendary Leander swimming across the Dardanelles straits. He bought a horse, and with it he crossed into Spain – right in the middle of the Napoleonic Invasion – and headed for Seville, with which he was fascinated. He travelled from Seville to Jerez on horseback through beautiful countryside as he described to his mother in a letter of 11th August.

Lord Byron, dressed to pass unnoticed
Byron was well received by his relative James Arthur Gordon Smythe, who put him up in his house, the Atarazanas for a few days, during which time he had the opportunity to visit the family firm’s vineyards and the bodegas where he could see how Sherry was produced. He wrote the following to his mother: “In Jerez, where they make the Sherry we drink, I met a great businessman, a Mr Gordon, a relative of ours, who kindly showed me his bodegas. Thus I was able to drink this famous wine at its very fountainhead”. This is surely one of the more beautiful descriptions of Sherry. Five days earlier, he had written to Frances Hodgson: “I will come back to Spain before seeing England, because I have fallen in love with this country”.

Once in Cadiz, where he again arrived on horseback, Byron made friends with old Arthur Gordon, the founder of the Gordon Sherry business, and another distant relation Sir William Duff Gordon. Even today, many anglo-saxons come to the province to reconstruct Byron’s journey, for example the trip undertaken in 1977 by the members of the Byron Society of London.

Almost twenty years after Byron’s journey, the American Washington Irving arrived in El Puerto de Santa Maria. He soon made friends with Juan Nicolas Bohl de Faber, a German who was in charge of the Duff Gordon bodegas, and whose daughter was the famous writer Fernan Caballero. When Irving left Andalucia, he wrote to Bohl placing a wine order for the American Embassy in London. The order was somewhat unusual: “I have promised Mr McLane (the ambassador) to obtain for him, with your help, a butt of old Sherry which contains sound reason in every glass; some of that liquor with which Lady MacBeth intoxicated King Duncan’s pages. Would you help me keep this promise by sending me a butt of this full, old and choice wine?”

After visiting and dining at Domecq one hot August day, Irving wrote in his diary: “May God let me live for all of time that I may drink all of this wine and be as happy as it makes me.” There are many such eulogies to Sherry wine, which was by now well known to rich Europeans and Americans.

DAZZLING CITY
In his detailed book “Passionate Travellers: Testimonials in the Province of Cadiz 1830-1930”, Ramon Clavijo Provencio tells us of the flood of Romantic tourists who travelled throughout and reflected upon the province. He picks out one David Henry Inglis, a British gentleman who arrived in Jerez in 1830, when the city had over 500 listed bodegas. His book, “Spain in 1830”, was considered by his colleague George Borrow to be the best book ever written about this country. In it, he speaks brilliantly about the production process of Sherry, exports, the state of the business and much more, giving us an excellent picture of how the trade worked at that time.

A French traveller, a poet and novelist called Pierre Louys, marvelled at the city, which he describes in his letters of 1896 as “Dazzling, everywhere the aroma of wine from the bodegas, nowhere else is the white so dazzling to the sight as in Jerez.”

“I got it absolutely right! It is one of the cities I shall always want to lock in my memory. For it, I would give 2 Cadiz, 125 Malagas and even a little corner of Seville. Just imagine, it is an undulating plain which is green in springtime but like the Sahara in summer, a city which is entirely white – it could not be whiter (…) the streets are broad like avenues or narrow like corridors. There are very tall palm trees in the squares, and bodegas everywhere.”

MONOTONY
George W Suter, an Englishman who visited the city in 1831 (and later a bodeguero and British Consul) described it less generously: “Before the elegant carriages were brought in, there were only three private coaches, and none to hire. One of these, an enormous old vehicle pulled by mules with decorated harness, is the property of a local Marquis. It was so high and so uncomfortable that a servant had to bring a stool so that his master could get in and out. The streets have no drainage, and are neither paved nor lit (…) When a family goes out at night to the theatre or a party, a servant walks ahead of them with a lit torch in one hand, and a stout stick in the other, while young men have lamps fixed to the crown of their pointed hats, and carry a sword or pistol.

When in Spain, the French adventurer, Josephine Brinckmann, a hardened traveller, always protected herself from assault by bandits with a pair of pistols. She found Jerez “boring”, yet in her book “A trip through Spain”, she emphasises the curiosity aroused by looking at the bodegas. “One needs to see this city, but one needs to take care of oneself and not stay longer than a day. It is deadly dull, dreary and boring. They say that a good third of the population are English, so it must be these insular English who have left their lamentable mark.”

There were plenty of French travellers: Theophile Gautier mentioned in his book “Journey to Spain” of 1845, his amazement at the bulls and thewine, according to research by Jose Luis Jimenez. “We passed along avenues of barrels piled four or five high. We had to try it all, or at least the better stuff, of which there is infinite supply. And Gautier’s equally famous compatriot, Alexandre Dumas, wrote in his book “Travels from Paris to Cadiz” the phrase “Jerez, symbol of joy and the Spanish spirit.”

There is more: in 1862, the hispanist Jean-Charles Davilier organised a trip to Spain with the artist Gustave Dore, who accompanied him with the idea of getting to know the country and producing illustrations for an edition of “Don Quijote”. In the book “Travels in Spain”, he includes the chapter “Cadiz, Jerez and Betica” in which he tells us of the countryside and people of the city. “What surprised us when we arrived at Jerez was the appearance of wellbeing of the place, its richness and cleanliness which are not found in all Spanish towns. Both men paid great attention to the artistic and folkloric aspects, as well as to the wine. The picture by Dore of the Cartuja, one of the great attractions to the Romantic tourists, is of great beauty, as were also the paintings and engravings of the fine Scottish artist and Romantic, David Roberts.

Jerez from the City Walls by David Roberts
Roberts arrived in Jerez in April 1833, where he produced five works: View from the city wall; interior of the church of San Miguel; façade of the church of Santiago; the Cartuja and views of the Arroyo gate. In a letter to his friend and fellow Scottish painter David Ramsay he writes: I was detained in Jerez for a few days as I had letters for Scottish friends {possibly the Gordons} who gave me a wonderful reception. After visiting one of their immense bodegas and trying their unbeatable wine, I decided to leave.”

The “Manual for Travellers in Spain and Readers at Home” is one of the most creditable of the “guides” of the Romantic Movement. It was written in 1845 by the Englishman Richard Ford, who was quite a character, and who made the dandy style fashionable. He travelled throughout Spain dressed like this because “it shows all who look at you that you are not going to be pestered by beggars”. On one of his journeys, Ford arrived at Jerez in a chaise after taking a steamboat from Cadiz to El Puerto de Santa Maria. He demonstrated a perfect knowledge of Sherry production , but rather put his foot in it describing some of the Jerez buildings.

William Somerset Maugham, famous internationally as a writer, even spy, was born in the British Embassy in Paris in 1874, and his book “Andalucia, the Land of the Blessed Virgin” talks about his trip to the region. One chapter is titled “Jerez” where he defines it as follows: A small city in the middle of a fertile plain. Clean, comfortable and handsome. White Jerez has been forever the home of Sherry.”

“Home of Sherry” is a lovely phrase; maybe that is why it has always been said in Jerez that there is no need to leave as everybody comes to Jerez.

From an article in the Diario de Jerez by Juan P Simo






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