Õåðåñ, Jerez, Xérès, Sherry wine

Sherry wine

Vine Growing and Harvesting

Olga Nikandrova and Denis Shumakov.

Contemporary Jerez vineyards are set based on a simple and rigid scheme — the vines are planted in a grid — 2,3-2,4 m between the rows and 1,15-1,2 m between the plants in the rows, which are oriented from north to south. These distances between the vines facilitate the mechanical operations in the vineyards and precondition the proper (for the regulation of yielding capacity) formation of vines and allow for the maximum sun exposure of the plants. It is notable that theoretically the same number of squire meters but differently shaped may house very different number of vines, but on average there are 3600-4200 vines per hectare. The 2,3×1,15 grid came to the Jerez Region only recently, along with the development of mechanization. Not that long ago the vines were planted according to denser schemes — but it made the use of tractors inconvenient, so the larger winegrowers refused the older schemes, while some of the smaller ones still use them.

The treatment of the future vineyard starts in August with deep ploughing (60-80 cm, which is very deep indeed) and intensive fertilization (initially soils are very poor in organic matter). This phase of soil treatment is called with the beautiful Spanish word agostado — “done in august”. Rootstock seedlings are planted in January, so that they could fully beneficiate from winter precipitation and take root well. In August-September buds of the three sherry vines are grafted on the rootstock. Grafting technique — inoculation or budding, done on the ground level, then the new bud is covered with earth to protect from the cold. In late winter — spring the plant is uncovered and starts growing. At the same time (in winter) grafting may be repeated on those plants where it failed, this time cleft grafting is applied. íî Nowadays, very often ready-grafted rootstocks are planted.

The next three years the vine grows being trimmed and preformed, when required. The grapes may bring fruit during these years, but the yields at this time are almost completely distilled. In the fourth year, when the vine reaches the height of 60 cm, it is formed for fruiting. From this time until 30-35 years of age (the active life span of sherry vines is not very big) every year every vine goes through one and the same cycle of approximately 50 (at least 46) different procedures. Here are the most “sherry-esque” of them (reference to the month is not strict, there may be a certain time play).

Vine status
Preparing inter-row spacing for winter rains
Leaf shedding. Sorrow
Vara y pulgar pruning, suckering
Winter. Nothing happens
Plowing, leveling furrows
Winter. Nothing happens
Nitrogen fertilizer application
Buds burst. Hope
Additional pruning
Flowering. Anticipation
Training vine shoots to wires
Fruit formation. Joy
Ripening. Happiness

Of course, some of the procedures need a more detailed description. In late Autumn rather distinguishable and perpendicular to the rows furrows for retaining rainwater are made in the inter-row spacing — at this time vineyards look like a huge sponge with an intricate pattern and work exactly like a sponge. If the year is rainy, drainage grooves are made instead. In spring the soil in between rows is leveled, this preconditions the formation of crust on its surface, which would hold water inside.

Vara y pulgar (“stick and thumb”) pruning method, known also as jerezana (“Jerez-style”), is considered original for the Jerez Region and implies the following. The upper part of the plant is trained into two branches growing in opposite directions. One of the branches (the “stick”) with eight or more buds is trained to fruit this year. The other one (the “finger”) with only one or two buds is to become a fruiting “stick” the next year. If in spring unnecessary shoots happen to appear additional pruning takes place. Vara y pulgar method is the most wide-spread but not the only in the Jerez Region.

Sometimes, Moscatel grapes are protected against birds by netting. Moscatel berries are very sweet, so birds willingly eat them if allowed. Some other animals (usually small and six-legged ones) also try eating grapes (not only Moscatel this time) — so the abovementioned cycle of approximately 50 procedures includes protection measures against pests and diseases.

It is also worth mentioning that there is not only grapes grown in the Jerez Region. Beside vineyards there may be cotton or sunflower fields, for example, or fields of some other food, feeding or industrial plants. Such agricultural diversity aggravated by wind turbines and small hills makes Jerez Region landscapes not quite pastoral but somewhat pacifying and inducing pleasant thoughts on cavaliers.

Thoughts, let’s say, about the fact that one vine during about 30 years can yield 7-9 grape bunches (about 3 kg) annually. Meanwhile the total yield of vineyards shall not exceed 11428 kg per hectare (suspicious precision). This would give the very regulated 80 hectoliters of grape juice.

As was mentioned above the harvest time happens in August-September and is accompanied by different enjoyable events. However it starts not by the calendar, but when the sugar content in the juice reach the required level indicating the ripeness of berries. The sugar content in berries ready for harvesting is not an absolute value and may differ a little depending on the grape variety, soil characteristics of a particular plot, and climate, but at least it (the sugar content) has a reference point. “The point of maturity” — 10,5° Baume (if less, the harvest will not be certified by the Regulating Council).

Despite the fact the share of mechanized procedures in the Jerez viticulture is constantly growing, about 85% of all grape harvest in the Jerez Region is collected by hand. Usually bunches are cut with thin-blade scissors or curved-blade knives and placed into small containers preventing grape damage during their transportation. Previously the role of such containers was played by small (with holding capacity of about 18 kg) baskets or boxes, nowadays almost all winegrowers use practical plastic containers with capacity of 20-25 kg. When this procedure is mechanized then harvesting “shaking” machines of different types are applied — they shake the vine, and fruit falls into receptacles and gets through a sequence of conveyors into holding bins.

The work with the collected grapes is organized so as to prevent its oxidation or fermentation, which can start very quickly in the hot climate of the Jerez Region. This is why the grapes are transported in small containers and over short distances. As for Palomino grape, it is very important to have the vinery close to the vineyard, since the grapes are to be processed right after picking. It’s different for Pedro Ximénez and Moscatel which being collected are transported to the withering spot — where they lie in the sun for some time getting thoughtfully raisined.

Read next — Vinification.

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