Friday, 10 August 2018

The Role of the Arrumbador


Among its various meanings the verb “arrumbar” means to stack or put away. The arrumbador therefore, is one who does the physical labour in a bodega; stacking butts, removing and replacing those needing repair or cleaning, racking, fortifying, blending, running the solera scales, fining and extracting samples. In the old days when Sherry was exported in butt, they also used to move the butts from the bodega and load them onto the train or lorry.

Arrumbadores doing various tasks in the 1850s

These heroic men, known as “trasegadores” in Sanlúcar, and without whom Sherry production would have been near impossible, tended to work in cuadrillas (squads) usually consisting of a leader, two experienced men and an apprentice, and the cuadrilla was responsible to the capataz, who was quite likely to have once been an arrumbador himself.

Building an andana in the 1920s

Not only do arrumbadores need physical strength and stamina – they need to be able to move butts weighing nearly 700 kilos - but they also need great skill and a pretty sound understanding of how the wine is made. The arrumbadores developed ways of stacking butts or extracting one (possibly leaking) from a solera system and putting it back again, using simple tools like ramps, poles and ropes, but with great skill and precision. They used to wear a sort of corset around the waist to protect them from hernias but covered them with smarter looking cummerbunds.

That butt weighs the same as a Mini car, 1960s. The two wooden beams are palos de cargar

It was very hard physical work and there were many dangers like pulling muscles, rope burns, oak splinters and falling butts. The men were supposed to wear gloves but rarely did, for better feel and grip. Most arrumbadores started their working life in other parts of the bodega; perhaps on the bottling lines or washing out butts, and gradually worked their way up, once they had mastered each job. A typical scene might be the capataz tasting wine with a pair of arrumbadores; one climbing up the butts and throwing a venencia of wine to the other on the ground who would catch it expertly and pour the wine into the capataz’ glass.

Racking 1940s. Tools (L-R) Canoa, Jarras and bomba de trasiego

There were once thousands of arrumbadores but sadly this once important office has almost become a thing of the past now, what with all the health and safety regulations and corresponding technical innovations since the 1970s such as forklifts and pumps, and the seemingly never ending decline in sales and therefore the industry itself.  In 1992 Jerez City Council and González Byass erected a statue in homage to the arrumbadores by local sculptor Francisco Pinto in the Avenida de Europa in Jerez.

racking using a canuto, Williams & Humbert

Over the centuries the “Arrumbaóres” as they are known locally, have evolved their own tools and terminology, some of which appears below:

Words connected with stacking butts:
Andamio = a form of moveable scaffolding used to reach the higher butts
Andana = a row of stacked butts
Bajete = Support for the bottom row of butts. Mostly wooden beams, but in Sanlúcar traditionally made of limestone (often containing fossilised oyster shells) often with a cork liner
Bocacha = oak wedge used to position butts
Chirlata = flat piece of oak, thinner than a llano used to help level butts
Deslío = Racking off lees
Escalera de trasiego = short wooden ladder
Llano = flat wooden square made from oak, eucalyptus or pine, acts as the base for a bocacha
Palos de cargar =  a pair of stout wooden beams used as a ramp for locating butts at a higher level
Puente = literally “bridge” an operation where the arrumbadores can move neighbouring butts enough to free and remove/replace a particular one.
Tranquilla = Stout wooden pole @ 1 m in length used as a lever for fine adjustment of butt position

Words connected with running the scales (saca y rocío):
Aspilla = a gauging stick for measuring the contents of a butt
A toca dedo = when a butt is filled to the top
Boca de bojo = upper bung hole on the butt’s widest diameter
Bomba de trasiego = long curved tube used to siphon wine from a higher butt during the saca
Canoa = a triangular stainless steel funnel with legs fitting between butts used in the rocío process in conjunction with a rociador and a jarra (QV)
Canuto = curved pipe which fits in the lower bung hole (falsete), used for racking higher butts
Falsete = Bung hole on the lower front of the butt
Jarra = a stainless steel jug of @12 ½ litres used in the saca y rocío process where done by hand.
Rociador: a stainless steel tube in the shape of a bull’s horn with a flange on the upper (wider) end while the narrower end is perforated. It is used for rocío along with a canoa. When inserted into the butt the new wine enters gently below the flor to minimise its disturbance.
Saca y Rocío = Running the scales. Wine is taken from the solera (saca) and then it is topped up from the following crideras (rocío). The last criadera is topped up with wine from sobretablas.

General terms:
Bota del gasto = separate butt especially for guests, or the workers’ refreshment. This butt was only occasionally abused…




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