Tuesday, 1 September 2015

All About the Venencia

The venencia dates back to ancient Greece where there are mosaics showing a similar tool used for a similar purpose, but no one knows how long it has been used in Jerez. Certainly Greeks colonists were in the area. The name derives from the word “avenencia” which means “agreement” so when a bodeguero used this tool to extract wine for a customer to taste, and he bought it, there was an agreement and the word stuck.

The cubilete (cup) was made from steel and shaped to go through flor with minimal disturbance. The vastago (long handle) used to be made from a whale’s whisker which was slightly square in section with a brown colour, but the whisker disappeared long ago when whale hunting was banned. It was also found that the whisker tended to break so they tried using a long metal spiral covered in black rubber but that wasn’t ideal either and now they use PVC.

Classic Jerez style venencia (foto:toneleriamanuelcabello)
The only person now making venencias (since 1975) is José María Torquemada who says that the shape has never changed, although he is modifying it a little. There are six components which are assembled in twenty-five operations.  He has eliminated the rivets and replaced them with glue, he eliminated the flange and also the little ringlet on the end of the gancho (hook) to give a sleeker look. Despite his age, José María is still experimenting with the design, and has come up with a venencia with a spout like a jug so that the wine pours better, and is thinking of making customised models with coloured handles.

Javier Hidalgo with Sanlucar venencias (foto:bodegas Hidalgo La Gitana)
In the past venencias were usually made by tinsmiths and they sold very few as they last for years, but more recently the bodegas have opened their doors to tourism and sales have shot up. In fact, according to José María, for every hundred made, only one is used in a bodega and the rest are sold as souvenirs. This style of venencia is only used in Jerez, El Puerto and Montilla, in Sanlúcar the tradition is to make it from a single piece of bamboo. Outside Andalucía nobody has heard of it unless they are Sherry fans, and he has sent orders for two hundred to Hong Kong and Japan.

The Rotonda de la Riva
As he says, the venencia is no more than a working tool, but it has become a popular and stylish way to serve Sherry, becoming an iconic art form. Not only is Sherry unique but so is the way it is served. Very few people can use a venencia properly, but there are professional venenciadores who serve Sherry at events like ferias, promotions and weddings. There are even international venencia competitions. Jerez is so in love with with this little tool that there is a huge fountain in its shape pouring water into a copita near the station - but take care if it's windy!

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