Anyone who has visited a wine cellar knows well the thrill when the winemaker whips out that glass tube called a pipette and pulls a long, smooth draw of visceral wine from the barrel. When visiting the Sherry cellars of the greater Jerez region you quickly find that things are done a bit differently. For starters, there is no pipette and instead there is what’s called a “venencia”.
The venencia consists of a narrow steel cup on the end of a flexible shaft that’s nearly one meter long. For the last 60 years, the shafts have been made of rubber covered spring steel or now, PVC, but it used to be the case that they used a whale’s whisker to make the shaft of the implement. To pull out the Sherry, they drop the venencia in through the bunghole on the top of barrel with a plunk that sounds like when you toss a pebble in a pond. This is to break through the cap of yeasts on the top of the liquid called the “flor” but not disrupt its protective cover. They then quickly pull out the cup and pour it in to glasses from above height head.
It is not the easiest of motions to master and no matter how perfect the pour, a bit of Sherry usually dribbles on the floor. They hold annual contests for the best “venenciador” in the world as the act can be done with a great deal of grace and panache. But, everything about this is so emblematic that you’ll find several fountains around the area with over-sized venencias sprouting up from the middle of them.
The name is generally thought to come from the Castilian word, “avenencia” which means agreement as the cups were often used to pull samples from the barrels for merchants to taste and then come to an agreement on the price and quantity that they wanted to buy.
It needs to be noted that in Sanlúcar where they make mostly Manzanilla and Amontillado (instead of Fino and Oloroso) they don’t use the classic venencia as much and favor one made out of a bamboo shaft. Nobody seems to have an opinion as to one being better than the other other than stating that that’s the way it’s always been done as shown by the fact you can even see Greek mosaics that have people pulling wine with small cups attached to a shaft several thousand years ago.