One of the oldest, most traditional and genuine of the many trades to be found in the Jerez Region is that of the Venenciador. Ever since sherry first began to be traded (which is the same as saying ever since Sherry wines were first produced and appreciated) it has always been necessary to establish quality and price by taking samples for tasting.
The venenciador is the human face of Sherry in and outside of the Bodega.
The human face of Sherry
When wooden butts started to be used for the storage, ageing and transport of Sherry wine, the way in which tasting samples were obtained began to involve determining factors which called for the use of special techniques. A Sherry butt is made with a bung-hole in the centre of one of the lateral staves which sits at the top when the butt is placed horizontally in its andana or row of butts inside the bodega. When samples of the content of each butt are required for tasting they are extracted through this bung-hole, known as the bojo of the butt.
In addition to the processes involved in the sale and purchase of Sherry, the extraction of samples is frequent practice in the production process. From the first classification of must right through to the long process of ageing in the criaderas the bodeguero constantly needs to obtain and taste samples of the content of each butt. It is the venenciador who, over the centuries, has helped the capataz (bodega foreman) and catador (taster) to obtain their samples in the bodegas of Jerez, Sanlúcar and El Puerto. Sliding the venecia through the bung-hole they extract wine from the interior of the butt and skilfully pour it into a catavino glass for the tasters to verify its bouquet and specific characteristics.
The central part of the butt, well below the surface but without touching the bottom where sediment may be found, can only be reached by using a venecia. The venencia allows us to extract a small quantity of totally clear wine and pour it into the tasting glass from a height to help the wine to aerate and open up when it strikes the glass, thus enabling the tasters to fully appreciate its characteristics. It is, therefore, neither just a simple trade, nor merely a spectacular way to serve wine, but rather a task which is carried out daily in the bodegas and one which is absolutely irreplaceable.