It is much more than just a visit for tourists; it is about submerging oneself in the history of how important the wine industry was for Jerez, from basic wisdom to anecdotes revealing the very soul of the trade. The museum, established in 2013 in the Bodega de la Luz, is packed with reminiscences of the great years in the history of Sherry. It was in this enormous bodega complex which spreads between the Puerta de Rota and the old convent of Espíritu Santo that Pedro Domecq built his empire and where Jerez brandy was born, in among the Sherries.
The exhibition, which is open all year round, begins with a homage to the El Majuelo vineyard in the pago Macharnudo and follows through to the effects of the industrial revolution on the evolution of Jerez, told through the histories of Fundador, Terry and Harveys.
It is not known exactly where in the bodega the original butts of Fundador were stored for the first five years or so, but they were stored here. In the late XIX century a large order for wine spirit for liqueur production was received from Holland, but for some reason the spirit never left the bodega and it was decided to store it in Sherry butts where it remained forgotten for some five years. A capataz happened upon it and thought he could use the spirit, but he discovered that it had absorbed flavour elements from the wood and the Sherry the butts had previously contained and developed into a beautiful brandy. This discovery opened up a whole new market, and Domecq organised a suitable solera to age it on the same lines as the Sherry, and the first commercial Jerez brandy, Fundador, was launched in 1874 and is now, nearly 150 years later, the firm’s most emblematic product.
A bust of Pedro Domecq greets visitors at the entrance in Calle Espíritu Santo, while homage is also paid to a more recent Domecq, the legendary oenologist José Ignacio Domecq who died some 20 years ago. Known as “la nariz” (the nose) his tasting ability was formidable, and the museum proudly shows the red Moto Guzzi motorcycle with a basket fixed to the rear on which he came to work with his beloved dog Paco.
The museum devotes a space to the firm’s achievements and recognition and here one can see all sorts of medals and prizes along with the bottles which won them, not to mention royal warrants and exclusive commemorative bottlings for the British royal family, including a special bottle for the wedding of Price Charles and Lady Diana, “the wedding of the century”.
Another impressive part of the exhibition is that devoted to the technical and business side of Sherry. There are old sales ledgers, XVII century bottles, all kinds of Sherry glasses and old bottling machines and, on entering the adjacent bodega, a huge majestic old copper still so tall it almost touches the roof. The next space is dedicated to Harveys and Terry and shows how things were done in the old days of commercial splendour and how Harveys began importing wine to Bristol and ended up exporting it from Jerez as one of the top names with the flagship brand Bristol Cream. The exhibition continues with Terry, famous for its Centenario, the brandy with the yellow net on the bottle, the legendary horses, coaches and riders’ clothing.
What looks like a normal staircase connects two bodegas at different levels, but there is a story. King Alfonso XIII was visiting Domecq and it was decided that for security reasons, an interior connection would be built to avoid the need for the king to be on foot in a public street. The glass from which Alfonso drank has been preserved in the bodega El Molino which contains a large number of butts signed by all sorts of famous people, right up to the present king, Felipe VI. These bodegas are steeped in the history and development of Sherry and Brandy de Jerez and it really comes to life in this museum.