Jerez de la Frontera, 30km inland towards Seville, is the home and heartland of sherry (itself an English corruption of the town’s Moorish name – Xerez) and also, less known but equally important, of Spanish brandy. An elegant and prosperous town, it’s a tempting place to stop, arrayed as it is round the scores of wine bodegas, with plenty of sights to visit in between.
Life is lived at a fairly sedate pace for most of the year here, although things liven up considerably when Jerez launches into one or other of its two big festivals – the May Horse Fair (perhaps the most snooty of the Andalucian ferias), or the celebration of the vintage towards the end of September.
The tours of the sherry and brandy processes can be interesting – almost as much as the sampling that follows – and, provided you don’t arrive in August when much of the industry closes down, there are a great many firms to choose from. The visits are conducted either in English (very much the second language of the sherry world) or a combination of English and Spanish and last for about an hour. Many of these bodegas were founded by British Catholic refugees, barred from careers at home by the sixteenth-century Supremacy Act, and even now they form a kind of Anglo-Andalucian tweed-wearing, polo-playing aristocracy (on display, most conspicuously, at the Horse Fair). The González cellars – the soleras – are perhaps the oldest in Jerez and, though it’s no longer used, preserve an old circular chamber designed by Eiffel (of the tower fame). If you feel you need comparisons, you can pick up a list of locations and opening times of the other bodegas from the turismo.
Jerez’s “big two” are González Byass, makers of the famous Tio Pepe brand (12 visits daily except Sun afternoon noon, 1pm, 2pm, 5pm, 6.30pm; €11 with wine tasting; t956 357 016, wwww.bodegastiopepe.com), and the neighbouring Pedro Domecq, producers of the equally well known La Ina brand (reservation required; Mon–Fri 4 visits on the hour 10am–1pm, Sat noon; €8 with wine tasting; t956 151 500, wwww.bodegasfundadorpedrodomecq.com). Besides manufacturing sherry, both bodegas are also major brandy producers.