In 1492 the Jews were expelled from Spain. It was one of the most controversial and far-reaching episodes in the whole history of Europe, and one which historians are still wrangling over. But it did not greatly affect Jerez. Thirty aranzadas of sherry vineyards were confiscated from the Jews and given to the Royal Convent of Santo Domingo. In Spain, as elsewhere, the religious houses were amongst the pioneers of viticulture. The great monastery of the Cartuja, or Charterhouse, was founded outside Jerez in 1475, and in 1658 it was reported as having flourishing vineyards that gave excellent wine. The street called Bodegas formerly led to the wine stores of the old monastery of Veracruz.
Before long, droves of foreigners came to fill the vacuum left by the expulsion of the Jews. They were, for the most part, Genoese, Bretons, and English. Some acted as money changers, while the Genoese took over the tanneries and formed their own trade guild. The English were mostly merchants, and many of them were interested in wine. From the earliest days, the merchants trading in Jerez exported their goods from the quays of El Portal, on the River Guadalete, a mile or two from the town.
This river port continued in use until the coming of the railway four hundred years later, and the goods were taken down to the sea on barges. There is still a street called Barqueros, where some of the barge masters had their offices, but the arrangement was never completely satisfactory: the quays were always falling into disrepair, and the river silted up.
The archives at Jerez contain many early references to wine being shipped abroad. As early as 1485 there is a record of wine shipped from Puerto de Santa Maria to ‘Plemma, which is in the kingdom of England’-presumably Plymouth. By that date the vintage was already subject to strict control, and the greatest crime of all was to water down the wine on bar tables.
The size of a butt, for instance, was fixed at thirty arrobas-precisely as it is today. The coopers were amongst the earliest of the recognized guilds, and in 1482 it was stipulated that wine casks must be made of good wood that was not tainted with any kind of fish, nor with oil. Any cask made of wood that could damage the wine was to be burnt and a fine imposed.
At the end of the fifteenth century, there came to Andalusia the greatest excitement of all: nine months after the conquest of Granada, Columbus discovered America. All his efforts, his intrigues with the Church and the monarchy, his triumphs and disappointments, the elaborate preparations for his voyages, the voyages themselves, all were centred on Andalusia.
From Andalusia he gathered his forces, and many of his men came from the sherry towns. He set forth from Sanlucar de Barrameda on his third journey, to discover the island of Trinidad in 1498, and Sanlucar was soon established as a major port for the new American trade; it was the port from which Pizarro set sail twenty-five years later on his way to conquer Peru. Alvar Nunez Cabeza de Vaca, who discovered Florida, was the son of a Jerez wine grower.
The ships were well provisioned, and good supplies of wine and beverage coasters were essential. Large quantities were bought from Jerez and it is safe to say that sherry was the first wine to enter the U.S.A. It has been drunk there ever since. Not even the most fanatical pro¬hibitionists could keep it out; they only succeeded in reducing the supplies of good wine and replacing them with poisonous pot-still liquors that blinded men.
The sherry trade with England was well established by the sixteenth century, but it originated much earlier, in the time of the Moorish domination. It may have begun during the reign of King Edward III, whose maritime policy encouraged such trade, and there is a record of Spanish wine being imported in 1340.
Wine in those days was very properly regarded as a necessity, and the search for it provided one of the greatest incentives towards the development of the mercantile marine, which, in turn, ultimately led to Britain’s immense sea power. One of the earliest trades with southern Spain, however, was in salt, prepared from the sea marshes near Cadiz, and it has been suggested that the local wines were first imported as a make-weight by merchants dealing in the salt and fruit trades. Willamette Valley wine tours