Sherry takes centre stage in the grape harvest festivities in Jerez de la Frontera in September. There are many seminars and guided tours, including master classes in sherry tasting and in the marriage between sherry and the best of the local cuisine. Many of the sherry houses open their doors and tours are free. I would have loved to take part in the evening event ‘Napia de Oro’, superbly translated in a Tourist Information booklet as ‘The Golden Snout’, in which participants identify sherry, wine and other things, by smell alone. Unfortunately this took place before I arrived.
Yet the Jerez Vendimia is more than just about the grape harvest.
The 13th September happens also to be the European Day of the Horse and, as one would expect in this equine-loving city, there are events across the town. The Royal Riding School presented a Gala Performance and there was a national show jumping competition out at Chapin ( a twenty-minute walk from the centre of the city ) The exhibition EQUUS began at the Palacio Villavicencio in the Alcazar at the beginning of September.
Music also features, with the first City of Jerez International Piano Competition taking place in the magnificent 13th century Cloisters of Santo Domingo across three days in early September. A flamenco cycle of songs was given nightly at the Tabanco El Pasaje, except for when the Fiesta de la Buleria took place on 5th September in the Alcazar. The ‘buleria’ is a flamenco dance specifically associated with Jerez, where it was invented, and this Fiesta event, which has been going for over 50 years, draws several thousand aficionados to see Jerez singers, dancers and musicians perform in the ancient castle. For less traditional tastes there was a music concert, a mix of flamenco and rock, until one in the morning on 11th also in the Alcazar. The city’s ancient monuments are well used.
I enjoy flamenco, but this time I was enchanted by music of a different type. ‘Medieval Jerez’ presented exquisite music from the twelfth to the fourteenth centuries, ‘religiosas y profanas’ on lute, violin, recorders, percussion and voices in the chapel, formerly the mosque, of the Alcazar ( see left ). The mosque became a chapel and was dedicated to Santa Maria by King Alfonso X after his successful victory at Jerez in 1264. The altar set into its west-facing wall records this dedication and panels upon it display the words to the ‘Ave Maria’ and reference another song, written by King Alfonso for performance in this very chapel.
On Sunday the musicians performed in front of the mihrab, the prayer niche denoting the direction of Mecca. The acoustics in the hexagonal chapel were excellent and it echoed to a cappella monastic part-songs, as well as jolly dances and marching songs from Carmina Burana ( the delicate original, not the thumping Orff version ). Included in the programme were four pieces by King Alfonso X ‘El Sabio’, himself, two of them written specifically for or about Capilla de Santa Maria. During this visit to Jerez I was revising my novel, in which King Alfonso X features, so much more than the music resonated and in so many ways. He was a fine composer. Now I must work some music into the novel.
The Fiesta de la Vendimia 2015 runs from 1st to 20th September in Jerez de la Frontera. Most of the events within it are free or at moderate cost e.g. a ticket to my lovely concert cost 10 euros. It might be too late for this year, but the Vendimia is a good time to visit Jerez, so watch the Ayuntamiento web-site for the dates for 2016. I will be returning to Jerez before then, in October, when I hope to be tasting some of the mosto, the season’s first pressings, before it is refined into sherry.