Sanlúcar de Barrameda is a seaside town on the Southern coast of Spain. The majority of visitors are Spaniards and the town retains its workaday character. A major industry here is the production of Manzanilla, a dry fino sherry. Its maturation in the damp bodegas of Sanlúcar de Barrameda gives it a slightly salty tang and distinguishes it from the finos of El Puerto Santa María and Jerez.
Although I was on the coast, there was little in the way of cooling breezes, and my choice of a traditional hotel – complete with an internal courtyard and a well for water – was thus, ill founded, especially as it was August. For the first few days, I raced around the town making sketches and taking photos. I thought that the long Siesta was for wimps. ¡Pero no! As Noel Coward used to sing: ‘…mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the mid-day Sun’. I found out the hard way why the locals keep to the shade and rest after lunch.
On my wanderings around the town, I came across the sherry makers Messrs Barbadillo and after a time of watching the coopers (toneleros) at work in their yard, I was invited in for a closer look. One man in particular was keen to show me the different tasks and tools involved in creating a butt. Subsequently, I made a series of etchings of this man’s skills.
One morning, I called Sr Hidalgo out of the blue. On hearing that I was in Sanlúcar, he invited me to visit him immediately and took me personally to some of the Hidalgo bodegas. I made an etching of him wielding the venencia, which is the long ladle-like tool used to extract samples of the sherry from below the level of the flor in the butt. There is nothing quite like tasting sherry straight from the butt. Recently, the producers have marketed Sherry en rama, which tries to replicate this taste experience by bottling without filtration and sterilisation.
Sr Hidalgo’s assistant, Tim, was kind enough to demonstrate the use of the jarra, the traditional implement used to transfer wine from one solera to the next.
The high point of the year in Sanlúcar is the annual horse racing along the beach. Sr Javier Hidalgo loves to compete in these races. He is also a keen ornithologist and donates to a local wildlife fund from the sales of his best sherry (with a bird on the label).
My reason for being in the ‘sherry triangle’ (Sanlúcar de Barrameda, Jerez de la Frontera and El Puerto de Santa María) was to carry out an illustration commission for The Wine Society (examples from Barbadillo and from Hidalgo are in their current list). In addition to vignettes to illustrate their List, they also wanted a view of the restaurants along the Sanlúcar seafront for the cover. My illustration employs a degree of artistic licence, grouping together the best buildings and showing holiday diners in full flow.
©Henry Hagger 2018