September is harvest time in the vineyards of Jerez de la Frontera.
In the sherry triangle, the Fiestas de la Vendimia begin officially around September 8, which is the feast of the Nativity of Our Lady.
The first grapes may be picked a week or so earlier, if the weather is good, and the harvest lasts a month.
There are a large number of events over the first two weeks of the harvest, starting with the Blessing of the Grapes on the evening of September 8 on the steps of the cathedral in Jerez.
The priest blesses the grapes in baskets in front of the Queen of the Harvest surrounded by her handmaidens dressed in white with blue scarves.
They cast the baskets into a large wooden wine press and four men in white shorts-wearing red sashes tread the grapes. They wear studded shoes to crush the grapes rather than the pips and stalks.
White doves are released and the cathedral bells ring.
A wine pourer shares chilled Fino sherry with those who attend.
The evening ends with fireworks, but there are a series of private and public parties in the following weeks.
Many villages hold their own wine-making festivals during this time.
How are sherry grapes harvested?
Sherry is produced from three grape varieties, Muscat of Alexandria (Moscatel), Palomino, and Pedro Ximénez.
Moscatel and PX are mainly used to sweeten sherries and the dominant grape is Palomino.
It produces large bunches of pale green grapes.
They are harvested at a potential alcohol level of 11 to 12.5 degrees.
Harvesting is mostly done by hand to protect the grapes, and some varieties are night-harvested to ensure they are not dried out by the sun.
The first pressing of the grapes is called the mosto. This then enters the traditional solera y criaderas system where it is fermented, ‘flor’, a layer of yeast, develops on top of the liquid and the wine is protected from oxidation while it ages in oak casks.
The flor also gives the sherry a distinctive nutty flavour.
At the end of a year, the wine is separated out into casks for Fino and Oloroso sherries and fortified to different strengths.
The flor survives the process and protects Fino sherries but does not survive the Oloroso process.
It enters the solera barrels system as it matures, moving between barrels to mix the vintages.
Which sherries should you try to get a taste of Jerez this September?
- The Antique Palo Cortado by Fernando de Castilla is an exceptional sherry aged for 30 years from 100% Palomino grapes. Serve with smoked meats.
- Dios Baco’s high-quality Imperial Vos PX has a caramelised sweetness which is ideal with desserts.
- Manzanilla Riá Pitá by Dios Baco is crisp, dry, and light, and a wonderful accompaniment with seafood.
- The Antique Amontillado by Fernando de Castilla has a long, dry finish and is a good match with nuts and cheeses.
- Fernando de Castilla’s PX Classic is a sweet sherry aged for eight years – perfect with chocolate and ice cream.