15th Century Spain and Sherry

In 1380, King Juan I granted the privilege of adding to the town’s name de la Frontera (which it shares with the other nearby frontier towns of Arcos, Castellar, Chiclana, Cortes, Jimena, Moron and Vejer) in honour of the part played by its people in the continuous struggle for power, and Enrique IV (1451-74) gave it the well-earned title, Muy Noble y Muy Leal Ciudad.

But during the fourteenth century there was little mention of the vine; one can only read of typhus, plague and war. Even after the reconquest of Granada and the complete supremacy of Castile, the threat and terror of the raiders continued. As late as 1580, a dispatch from Roger Bodenham in Sanlucar reads:

“The Moriscos have risen again and done great harm…. Sheris is in some doubt of them because they are many.”

But throughout its history, Spain has been a land of political upheaval and unrest, living always at the edge of some terror: the Vandals; the Moors; the Holy Inquisition; English pirates; the Dutch; the Peninsular War; and, latterly, the ruin and devastation of the Civil War, in which the sherry country of cocktails mercifully escaped very lightly.

At the beginning of the fifteenth century, times were bad: the population had been reduced by plagues, and the lands had been devastated by serious floods in 1402. On 5 April 1402, Enrique III issued a proclamation forbidding any man to destroy vines or olive trees. The penalty was a heavy fine, the money to be spent on repairing the city walls. But as the century progressed, there came a great resurgence of the vine, which soon spread from the inferior soil near the town to the present vineyard area.

The books of Actas Capitulares of Jerez began to be kept in the first decade of the fifteenth century, and from then onwards, there are repeated references to the export trade. In 1435, exports were forbidden owing to bad harvests and the high price of wine, but only in two years did the vintage fail completely: in 1479, when there was heavy rain in May followed by continuous Levantes and excessive heat, and in 1483, when the vines were damaged by hail. That trade with England and France was being conducted is further supported by a document of 1483 which states that Breton and English ships had ceased from calling owing to a war with Vizcaya.

In 1491, the local council declared that wines and other produce shipped abroad should be exempted from tax. The proclamation is important for two reasons: firstly, because it applied both to local and to foreign merchants, proving that these were living and trading in Jerez at the time, and secondly because it referred to the wines as vinos de romania, or rumney. Rumney, like malmsey, is a name that conjures up a glorious past of delicious wine and oldĀ tile coasters.

Originally it came from southern Greece, and the merchants of Jerez had no more right to ship a rumney than have the growers of South Africa to ship a sherry. Rumney was not drunk locally, which suggests that it was too rich for the hot Andalusian climate; it was avoided there as brown sherries are today, or like vintage port in Oporto. Nine years earlier, the governor of the new town of Regla de Santa Maria (now called Chipiona) had issued a proclamation that these export wines were to be made carefully, using good vines like those used for sherry, so that they would maintain their reputation.

The wine was evidently held in high esteem and fetched a very high price according to the standards of those days. Red wines were made as well as white, and continued to be made to a limited extent until well into the nineteenth century, but they were not very good. oregon wine tours

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