Travel diary: Bodegas and belenes in Jerez

It’s been a good week, full of winery visits and nativity scenes. We also got our bathroom sink fixed and continued to enjoy the dry air that’s our dehumidifier’s Christmas gift to us.

Monday 17/12: The first winery we visited was actually three in one: Harvey’s, Terry, and Pedro Domecq are all owned by the American company Beam, which also owns Jim Beam. We met our contact Rocío and chatted with her for a bit about the company and what kinds of tour they offer, then joined one of these tours with a guide called Manuel. He led us around the cellars and explained the sherry-making process, then took us to a dining room where we could taste two of the sherries and two of the brandies they produce. The four of us who were doing the tour (us and a couple from Madrid) sat around for about twenty minutes chatting and enjoying the drinks.

After the tour, Craig and I decided to have a menu del día for lunch, since we hadn’t had one for some time, then headed home to meet the plumbers.

Inside Bodegas Diez Merito.

Inside Bodegas Diez Merito.

Tuesday 18/12: Our second winery, Diez Merito, was quite different from the first. For one thing, it’s a lot smaller that the Beam conglomerate, and offers fewer tours per day — but they seem to offer a wider range of options. Our contact Maria José gave us the standard tour, which ended with an excellent tasting of five of their products… and they were all delicious.

In the afternoon we worked for a while then met up with Tanya, our new German teacher — we’re going to have lessons with her once a week.

Wednesday 19/12: After a morning of work, we headed out for a longish walk before lunch, and spent the evening watching our new favourite TV show, Jeeves and Wooster.

Thursday 20/12: Our third winery visit was to Bodegas Tradición, which is one of the smaller wineries in Jerez. Our contact Ulrike met us at the door and took us around the cellar and the warehouse, explaining the process of making sherry as well as how it’s bottled, corked and labelled. Even though we’d heard a similar explanation on both of the previous tours, I still learned a lot — perhaps because Bodegas Tradición uses traditional methods rather than modern ones. The tour ended with a visit to the excellent art gallery followed by a tasting of all six of their products. Yum.

Inside the warehouse at Bodegas Tradición.

Inside the warehouse at Bodegas Tradición.

In the afternoon we had our first German class with Tanya, which went really well — she’s a good teacher and I think we’re going to learn a lot from her.

Friday 21/12: Nativity scenes are a big part of Christmas here in Jerez — there’s a life-size one in the centre of town and almost every shop has one on display in the window. And half of the products in the small Christmas market in Plaza Arenal are figures for these scenes, which are called “belenes“. So it’s perhaps not surprising that the city has a Museo del Belén, or nativity scene museum. It opened last year as a seasonal display, but this week it reopened as a permanent exhibition, which will be open every day of the year.

One of the many nativity scenes at the Museo del Belén.

One of the many nativity scenes at the Museo del Belén.

We headed along before lunch and spent just under an hour there. First we were ushered into a darkened room, where we spent fifteen minutes seeing the Christmas story come to life. It was a nativity scene, but not as I’d ever seen one — it filled three sides of the room, was at least a metre deep, and a sound-and-light display drew your attention to different areas of the scene.

Modern nativity scenes.

Modern nativity scenes.

Upstairs there were around forty other belenes, and not just of the Holy Family. Some of them depicted the shepherds or the Wise Men, others showed modern Christmas scenes. An enormous one from 18th century Naples took up the entire back wall — it was really quite impressive.

After lunch we headed out for a long walk, and stumbled upon another nativity scene display that was going to open in five minutes. We decided to fill the time with a glass of most at a nearby restaurant, and were treated to free entertainment because the twenty or so people at a nearby table were holding an impromptu zambomba party — and some of the songs they were singing were hilarious.

The nativity scene display was of belenes from South America, and while they were a lot smaller than those in the museum, they were very interesting — all the figures had South American features.

Saturday 22/12: Craig brought me breakfast in bed (he’s a truly wonderful person, that Craig) and we went for a long walk after a lunch of ajo del campo. As we were walking past the door of a monastery, we noticed what could only be called a cacophony — a mix of choral music and the screechings of birds. We entered to find another life-size nativity scene, complete with the appropriate aroma — at the back of the room was a pen of lambs and kids, as well as an aviary and a rabbit hutch. Off to one side there was a another room displaying five or six smaller nativity scenes. It was all a little surreal.

Jerez Cathedral.

Jerez Cathedral.

On the way home we noticed a lot of people entering a building that’s normally locked up. Naturally we followed them, and found ourselves in cloisters — it was a monastery that was originally built as a mosque sometime in the 11th century. Many of the rooms off the cloisters featured displays of some kind — there was one about the Virgen de Rocío (a statue of the Virgin Mary), one was all modern art, one was a display of silverware, and the last — you guessed it — had nativity scenes.

In the evening I made my first attempt at mulled wine. It was a success — the only problem was that I’d only made two glasses’ worth in case it was an utter failure, and we were left wanting more.

Sunday 23/12: After another delicious breakfast in bed (you’re wonderful, Craig), I spoke to Oliva on Skype for an hour while Craig stayed in bed and played his new game.

In the afternoon I baked shortbread and made more mulled wine, and our landlord dropped by with some Christmas treats — so all in all, it was a very tasty day.

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2 Responses to “Travel diary: Bodegas and belenes in Jerez”

  1. Sam December 27, 2012 at 5:23 am #

    How funny; I’ve recently been watching Jeeves and Wooster too for the first time. I must say, however, that I think I preferred them in A Bit of Fry and Laurie.

    • Craig and Linda January 14, 2013 at 11:42 am #

      Sam! I don’t believe we missed your comment — must have been with the downtime and madness. Yes, we worked out way through Jeeves and Wooster pretty quick, and are onto season 3 or 4 of Fry and Laurie now. Promise I’ll get to your other recommended watch-list soon.

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