The Secret to Spain’s Signature Style of Wine? Centuries-Old Architecture

A Sherry barrel room
Photo Courtesy Bodegas Lustau

While modern wineries feature their share of architectural wonders, the historic bodegas of the Sherry triangle, many of which date to the mid-1800s, boast their own engineering marvels. Most were designed to create specific microclimates that encourage the development of flor, the blanket of dead yeast cells that forms over Sherry as it ages, protecting it from oxidation.

“[The architects] came up with a new style of building, combining functionality with aesthetic,” says Mario Muñoz González, Brand Ambassador for Bodegas Lustau in Cádiz, Spain. “At that time, to be recognized or known as one of the best affluent wineries of Jerez was to have tall, beautiful and impressive cellars.”

But there’s more to it than grandeur.

Every feature was taken into account. Windows and doors carefully align to take advantage of, or buffer against, the cool, humid Poniente wind from the west, as well as the hot and dry Levante wind from the east. During much of the year, these portals remain open to allow the Poniente “to refresh the microclimate,” says Muñoz González, but they’re closed in the summer when the Levante is at its most powerful.

“[The architects] came up with a new style of building, combining functionality with aesthetic.” —Mario Muñoz González

Each building’s coordinates are key to harnessing the wind’s powers. “The wineries are oriented to receive the Atlantic Ocean breeze from the south and west, especially at night, when the higher humidity contributes importantly to the development of wine yeasts,” says Mauricio González-Gordon, chairman of González Byass.

Because heat can damage the wines, high ceilings were implemented to allow hot air to rise and keep the solera process, an aging system used to blend many vintages over time, nice and cool. González-Gordon says thick walls, often made of sandstone or limestone, also help control temperature fluctuations, as they absorb humidity.

However, humidity serves an essential role in flor’s development, and it’s maintained in other ways. At both Lustau and González Byass, albero soils, the same type of dirt found in bullfighting rings, cover the floor. Frequent watering, sometimes numerous times per day in the summer, helps maintain a constant humidity level.

Published on December 2, 2020
Topics: Sherry