Spain is thought to be one of the oldest wine producing countries in the world and one with deeply rooted wine making traditions. In terms of vineyard surface area it is the largest in the world and the third largest wine producer after France and Italy. These ancient traditions can be attributed to the various waves of peoples that have colonised the Iberian Peninsula over the centuries, from Celtiberians, Phoenicians, Greeks and Carthaginians through to the all powerful Romans, who left the biggest “wine footprint” of all.
After the apocalyptic fall of the Roman Empire in the 5th century, Europe was plunged into a dark era of major scale bloodletting and chaos which proved catastrophic for the wine industry of the time. It wasn’t until the 9th century with the arrival of the first monastic communities that a revival in winemaking came about. For the monks wine was an essential part of their diet but also a holy sacrament. At this time the Jewish communities of the Sepharad (Spain) were quietly making and trading wines in strict observance of the commandments laid down in the Torah, playing a key role in the expansion of Spanish wine across the continent.
THE BOOM YEARS
We know for certain that the first wine to reach the Americas was from Ribadavia, probably arriving on Columbus’ second or third voyage. The Admiral’s log makes reference to a sickly priest traveling on the Santa María who had pleaded with him for wine from Ribadavia “for to ease his aches and pains”. Throughout the Middle Ages the wines of Ribadavia (Ribeiro), Penedés, Tarragona, Ebro Valley, Aranda del Duero, Toro and Jerez would gain great fame and prestige in Europe, with Ribeiro in particular conquering the markets of the Low Countries and the British Isles. The Reformation, and Spain’s short sighted and bloody response to it, would bring this golden age of Spanish wine hegemony to an end as Christians across Europe once again descended into a vortex of religious bloodletting.
From the very beginning the Jewish community of the Sepharad produced, consumed and traded wine. Its sizeable contribution to the development of Spanish society has been rescued from oblivion thanks to the tireless work of numerous associations and individuals across the country. Over the last twenty years different public and private institutions have been increasing public awareness of the Sephardic legacy in Spain, promoting it actively through the Red de Juderías de España, a network of twenty four towns and cities across the country. We know from historical documentation that these twenty four municipalities had very important Jewish populations at the end of the 15th century.
VINEYARDS OF THE SEPHARAD
The Vineyards of the Sepharad initiative is a fascinating journey back in time, a treat for the senses where you get to inbibe the atmosphere of ancient streets where Jews once lived, loved, tended cellars and prospered for centuries. It’s also an intriguing tour of singular wineries that produce kosher wines or those with a solid winemaking tradition that are committed to keeping the flame alive, thereby honoring the memory of the winemakers and wine merchants of the Sepharad. Also taking part are restaurants, wine bars, wine stores and other wine retail outlets that program wine tourism activities in co-ordination with the Red de Juderías de España-Caminos de la Sefarad, proudly showcasing the newly revived wines of the “Vineyards of the Sepharad”. Nowhere is this more present than in Ribadavia itself in the month of August when the town pays tribute to its Jewish past by staging a Sephardic wedding as part of the town’s summer fiestas. People change their euros into ‘maravedis’ for the day and snack on sweet pastries called ‘dulces hebreos”, made according to ancient recipes handed down from generation to generation.
WHERE TO GO
Apart from visiting the wineries that make up the network of Vineyards of the Sepharad, you will also be able to enjoy music and dance festivals, guided visits of Juderías, Sephardic gastronomy and museums with exhibitions on the legacy of Sephardic culture in Spain. The perfect complement to these activities are ‘RASGO’, a type of quality distinction awarded to restaurants, hotels, wine routes and other organized events.
And on a final note, the story goes that a Sephardic family from Israel visited the original Toledo a few years back, bringing with them an old family heirloom, a huge key that actually opened the gate to a 15th century town house in the ‘Aljama’. The ‘Old Christians’ that occupied the house in 1492 were so sure the previous owners weren’t coming back, they didn’t think it necessary to change the locks. Some folk say that in the dead of night, ancient ‘ladino’ voices and footsteps can still be heard near the synagogue in Toledo.
Futher information: www.redjuderias.org. www.turismoribadavia.com