Wednesday 21 June 2017

Williams & Humbert Lecture “The Wine Factories and the Construction of the Capitalist City”

“The wine industry of XIX century Jerez created an urban and rural model unique to Spain. “

This is a précis of the latest in the Williams & Humbert cycle of lectures given last Thursday by Manuel González Fustegueras, president of the Foundation of Contemporary Architecture. Under the title “The wine factories and the construction of the capitalist city” he analysed what took place in Jerez architecturally and urbanistically between the end of the XVIII century and the second third of the XIX, all linked to the world of bodegas, “converting Jerez into a unique city which would become the third largest contributor to the Spanish exchequer and in which the management classes became a part of the most influential political circles in the Spain of the time.”

Manuel Gonzalez Fustegueras with Jesus Medina

In view of the weakness of the industrial revolution in XIX century Spain which left Andalucia as an agricultural backwater, the speaker pointed out how the agro-industry of the wine of Jerez would become one of the first models of capitalist economic development in Spain during the second third of the XIX century. In its interaction with the city it would determine the unique development of the “wine factories” or bodegas and the spaciousness of their design. They were clearly constructed as industrial buildings for the specific needs of wine production, and duly built within the layout of the city – which was altered to suit as necessary - and thus determined the shape of future urban development giving a new image to the city: an industrial estate in which the footprint of bodegas came to exceed 40% of urban land. No other industrial city in Spain ever reached such a high percentage. This immense industrial estate transformed the old city of convents into a unique agro-industrial city affecting production and commercial structures, ownership of the land and agricultural techniques, right down to the urban plan of today.

Had it not been for a certain series of events, however, Jerez would never have become “the city of bodegas” which made it so uniquely different from others, but would likely have been limited to just being a vineyard city or wine city, with its enviable geography, located right down south, with magical spaces and amazing architecture, tiled rooves, patios, lanes and special streets. González Fustegueras outlined those main events which made Jerez become “the city of bodegas” as being the discovery and perfecting of a system which offered a homogeneous product – the solera system; the Royal Decree of 1778 which abolished the ordinances of the Gremio de la Vinatería restricting the storage of wine and which was the first victory for the bourgeois merchants over the growers; the fact that at the time Jerez was in a very scruffy state with rubbish dumps, slums and vacant sites which were cheap and perfect for reconversion into bodegas; the dispossession in 1836 by Mendizábal of Church properties which were snapped up by the ever expanding wine trade; and the lack of regulations relating to bodegas. He also noted that the birth of the capitalist city brought concomitant benefits such as the railway, electric street lighting, a Bank of Spain office and factories for bottles, gas and corks among other commodities.

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