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My Spanish Heart

Jerez de la Frontera: Fundador & All That Jazz

Bodegas Fundador in Jerez de la Frontera, Spain.


The first time I heard about Fundador, I was listening to the Bill Evans / Tony Bennett album the artists collaborated on in 1975. It's a timeless collection of jazz standards, one of which is "When in Rome." The song starts off with a beautiful harmonic introduction from Evans, then Bennett brings the opening lyrics:


When in Spain, for reasons I don't explain

I remain enjoying a brew,

Don't deplore my fondness for Fundador --

You know a Fundador can lead to a few --

And baby, when in Rome, do as the Romans do.


I really had no idea what he was singing about...obviously Fundador was some kind of high-octane beverage. Having listened to the CD possibly a thousand times, I was never going to forget Fundador. I just didn't know anything about it.


Jerez de la Frontera, it turns out, is home to Spain's oldest bodega and many others, for that matter. Bodegas Fundador, which produces sherry and brandy, is a sprawling estate with beautiful landscaping. After I learned about the sherry and the brandy, I figured Señor Bennett was singing about the brandy, but who knows? I guess we'd have to ask the songwriters, Cy Coleman and Carolyn Leigh, to know for sure. Actually Leigh was the lyricist and, as she is no longer with us, maybe we'll never be sure.

 

After touring the alcazar, that's a given in Andalucía, and checking out the outstanding flamenco that is everywhere in Jerez, I decided I had to tour one of the bodegas for which Jerez is famous. The well-known Tio Pepe bodega, which is extremely popular, was an option and closer to where I was staying. But I don't know any lyrics about Tio Pepe (maybe you do), so Fundador was my one and only.


Jerez can be a little frustrating to find your way around, some of the streets have their names on the corner buildings and some don't. Just try using Google Maps with directions like "turn left on calle soandso." Ha, as if you would ever know which street that was. Anyway, I managed to walk to Bodegas Fundador, it just took a while. (The return trip is always so fast!) Fortunately, I had looked online and discovered the tours were offered at specific times, so I decided to go for the 4 o'clock tour and gave myself over an hour to find a place 15 minutes away!


The grounds are beautiful and the giant buildings filled with barrels of various sherries at multiple stages of development, plus the museum with all its memorabilia, made for a nice late afternoon.


There were eight people on my tour, Germans, British and myself, the sole norteamericano. Almundena Sanchez, our guide, was incredibly knowledgeable, patient with us, spoke fluent English, and had answers for all of our questions, no matter how far ranging. She was willing to give the tour in English and Spanish, but we all agreed that English would suffice.


Why are the giant barrels painted black? So you can tell when there is a leak...the alcohol oozes white and the leak is immediately apparent. Why all the black mold in the man bodega? It helps regulate the temperature. Strange!

 

The bodegas have welcomed many a celebrity visitor, as the signatures on the barrels testify: the Nobel Prize-winning poet Octavio Paz, the great Luciano Pavarotti, Caroline Kennedy, John and Bo Derrick (!). The tour was fascinating, as was the explanation of the processes and the examination of various sherries and brandies as we sniffed their aromas and compared their colors. My favorite part of the museum, which  was part of the tour, were the well-maintained carriages. One beautiful carriage built to carry four people had less legroom than the economy section on an airplane! Maybe people had shorter legs back then?

 
Ah, but finally, it was time for a sampling of the products, which came at the end of the tour. We tasted dry sherry first and that was a hit. Next came the very sweet, the Pedro Jiménez, which not everyone liked. It was served over ice and with a slice of orange. A chap named John from England and I loved it. His wife was not pleased and passed hers off to him. He was happy to oblige. As we sat and relaxed and began to talk to one another, conversation almost turned to politics after we'd established where we were from. But the Brits and I quickly laid down some rules: no talking about T or B. The Germans laughed.


Thereafter, we had pleasant discussions about all manner of other interesting topics: how beautiful the Cotswolds are, how tough it is to learn to speak really good Spanish, etc.


We polished off most of the samples and lingered until closing at 6 p.m.

 

It was a delightful time, indeed, so, yes baby, when in Rome ...


#fundador #bodega #sherry #brandy #billevans #tonybennett #jazz #jerezdelafrontera

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