Sunday, 29 April 2018

Dr Borrego Pla's Lecture on Sherry's links to Three Continents

This is an abstract from the lecture Dr María del Carmen Borrego Plá gave at Williams & Humbert the other evening. Her topic was “Return Traffic: the links between three continents” and one she is uniquely expert on, having a doctorate in history and being part owner with her mother of Bodegas El Maestro Sierra.

Dr Borrego focused her lecture on the exceptional “network of interests and exchanges” which was created from the start of the XVI century between Spain, the “Indies” and Asia. These interchanges, which have rarely been studied in depth, have been mainly centred on luxury products and those relevant to nutrition and the pharmacopeia. Many of our modern day customs have derived from these connections between the three continents without us being aware of it. This was the earliest economic globalisation and it is very similar to current globalisation theories.

Dr Borrego addressing over 80 people in the area of the bodega where they store the Anadas

She stressed the “luxury mentality of the Renaissance” and the nature of the products involved, which were considered to be of high value, and which arrived in Castile mainly via Venice and Constantinople. The fall of the latter into the hands of the Turks, who decided to cease trading with Europe, was the turning point where Spain and Portugal decided to search out their own products. Dr Borrego explained how Spain and Portugal in the days of the great navigators also decided to go to China following the papal allocation of their own new Atlantic shipping routes, through which Spain would go on to discover a new continent.

Commercial efforts in the Indies as well as China and the Philippines as strategic enclaves of the Spanish trading network are some of the historic milestones she addressed, as well as the route of the well-known “Manila Galleon” which gave Spain entry to the Philippines and vice-versa.

Studies of the products traded reveal a wide range; imported from the Indies were maize, potatoes, cacao and tobacco, to mention just a few examples, and exported from Spain; livestock, various crops, and of course wine, while from Asia, lacquer, silk and spices were imported.

Dr Borrego with Jesus Medina Garcia de Polavieja, director of Williams & Humbert

In the end we would find that Sherry would become one of the central threads in this network and exchange of trade routes and cultures. It was transported by ship in containers made of wood, ceramic or leather and mostly sent to Mexico since winemaking was difficult there on account of problems with pruning techniques. Sherry was already highly valued and was even used as a means of payment with the older wine having a higher commercial value than the younger.

These wines from Jerez arrived in the Philippines by the route of the aforementioned Manila Galleon (also known as the China Ship or the Acapulco Galleon). This route would link Spain with the Philippines and connect the ports of Seville, Veracruz, Acapulco and Manila. It was a complicated route, a mix of land and sea crossings. In the case of the Philippines it involved sailing from the Atlantic into the Pacific, the ocean they referred to as the Sea of Silk and Silver for the huge quantities of these goods which crossed its waters.

Dr Borrego also described how the tobacco pouches from the Indies came wrapped in Chinese silk. This silk, then so cheap that tobacco was wrapped in it, was used by the girls in the tobacco factory in Seville to make their own shawls. This unprecedented exchange of culture and trade also affected Sherry labelling (especially Manzanilla) which frequently used representations of these women in their shawls, thus reflecting the links between these three continents through three products; tobacco, silk and wine.

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