Sunday, 28 June 2015

Bodegas Tradición Restores and Catalogues Historic Archive

An altarpiece by Juan de Leví from the late XIV century, a dossier from 1666, a wooden plaque from 1650, and 80 year old wine… the passage of time runs through every inch of these bodegas which seem to have been here almost for ever in this enclave of the Calle Cordobeses. Here can be found their well- known art gallery containing over 300 Spanish works from the XV to the XIX centuries, their beautifully aged and sought-after wines and here is where they continue working with history, now with the restoration of the bodega archive.

In a large, fresh, recently restored room thousands of documents are being researched. Well-ordered and stored in boxes they lie on an elongated table awaiting their turn to be cleaned, catalogued and read by Manuel Marín. The quality of the paper and the ink and the fact that they have been stored so long without being moved mean that the great majority have been preserved in good condition, although it has not been possible to restore all of them. The archive comes from the bodega CZ (Cabeza y Zarco) which is thought to be the oldest documented bodega in Jerez dating from 1650, although the oldest document found so far is from 1666. “Hopefully older ones could still be discovered,” says Helena Rivero, president of the bodega.

Manuel Marin at work
The documents have been fumigated, removed from the boxes and had the dirt removed, one by one. Wrinkled ones are put through a press. The plan is to digitalise them so they can be consulted easily. According to Javier Maldonado Rosso, one of the foremost historians of Sherry, “the Sherry business could not be fully understood without these archives.” He says that in these papers the move to industrialisation can be seen, when the bodegas controlled everything including the price until the arrival of the almacenistas when they lost total control. A legal case legitimised the latter and thus the whole Sherry production process changed from winemaking to wine growing and making. This happened in Jerez before anywhere else.

Part of the archive and its condition (foto:diario jerez)
These documents have passed through the hands of the different owners of the firm until arriving in the hands of the Rivero family, after “difficult” negotiations with Antonio Núñez Terriza, who found it very hard sentimentally to let go of the dossiers. In the boxes they have found cheques from the British Royal Household for wine orders and official documents which show that wine which was in some ships which returned from the battle of Trafalgar formed the solera for the fine Trafalgar 1805 Sherry brand which was prestigious in its day. The dossiers, very few of which are of a personal nature, include photographs of when Joaquín María Rivero, grandfather of the current owner and married to an heiress of Cabeza y Zarco in the XIX century, took over the bodega and added his name to the firm’s title. He would then undertake a process of internationalisation so many more were aware of the prestige of the brand. The history of this bodega is practically unknown to most Jerezanos yet it has been in the heart of the city for centuries.

Just like the wine in its butts which needs time and can’t be hurried, this archive is also taking time: the time Manuel Marín needs every day to put in order books of accounts, books of formulas - written in symbols so they couldn’t be copied - letters with documents which state how when the Marqués de Montana died in 1785 the bells tolled at all the Jerez churches joined by those of the convents which no longer exist; a letter from the minister for Development from 1906 informing Joaquín María Rivero in the most prosaic (or perhaps respectful) way that he was virtually bust.

There are myriad documents covering the XVII to the XX centuries which include important references to the vineyards, what they were like originally and how the countryside changed. There are hundreds of letters, work diaries or more modern things. For example there is a 1943 contract in which it states that 1,000 cases of CZ brandy were sold in Tangier at 100 pesetas each, despite the fact that no one is supposed to drink alcohol there. “There is so much information which is so useful to document the history of how they thought historically. We’ve been thinking about the ink they used which is very good quality,” says Helena Rivero, conservator of the art collection and also the archive. “Also the paper is what used to be called “cloth paper” which has cotton in it, not cellulose which wood lice like to eat, and has a parchment feel to it.” Despite the huge amount of documentation, Helena is surprised by how few photographs there are, but “we are anxious to read all there is and impatient to come across more information so we can connect everything. My great grandfather was concerned to conserve the archives, for which we have to thank him.”

Helena Rivero
On Manuel’s work table there are piles of dust and dirt from the dossiers which grow every day with every stroke of the cleaning brush on the paper, and a special kind of rubber cleans off impurities. Meanwhile violin music sings from the radio, making the conservator’s work still more delicate.

To make the archives available to researchers and visitors, time is still needed to clean everything up, as Helena jokes: “anywhere between one year and ten years.” In time the archive room will be fitted out with shelving to store the documents as well as an area for study. For storage a series of files have been commissioned with the Rivero crest, made from a special material which is PH neutral.

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