FBTG attended the final of the 18th running of the Trofeo de la Copa y la Venencia down at the Estadio Municipal de la Juventud. On a balmy Tuesday evening beneath a clear sky, home side Jerez Industrial CF took on the visiting Racing Club Portuense from the romantically named El Puerto de Santa Maria in front of a handful of spectators.
Let us sift gracefully through the abundant Spanish vocabulary in the above paragraph and hover our metaphorical magnifying glass over the name El Trofeo de la Copa y la Venencia. Your GCSE Spanish surely enables you to understand that the first four words mean “the trophy of the”. Of what however is slightly more complex.
“La copa” identifies a generic drinking vessel, but can be translated conveniently into English as “the cup”. A “venencia” is a long, mildly pliant staff on the end of which is always attached a cylinder, long and thin in shape, made invariably of metal, closed on the bottom and open on the side facing the long handle. Picture if you will a laboratory test tube made of aluminium on the end of a walking stick. That’s more or less a what a venencia is, but we haven’t found an English translation for such an obscure item. If you still fail to picture it, take a quick look at Jerez Industrial CF’s crest below to see a 2D example, placed without coincidence next to a fine example of a copa. Why choose such an odd name for a small-time Football tournament? Well, the venencia is a tool used exclusively in the sherry industry, the key earner for the people of the Jerez region.
In the United Kingdom (that curious little island where I and just under 24% of FBTG readers come from), sherry is tragically misunderstood. It is not simply that dusty bottle of sickly-sweet liquid that Nan pulls out at Christmas just in time to embarrass herself with comments that became far from acceptable years ago. Sherry is the delightful result of a millennia old process whereby residents of Jerez de la Frontera and its satellite towns add value to the limited agricultural opportunities available to them by fortifying the juice of grape species that otherwise make pretty shitty orthodox wine.
In layman terms, sherry is fortified wine, either dry or sweet, that can only come from the Jerez region. Needless to say it is rather popular around here, and during local festivals and celebrations a venenciador dips his venencia into a full barrel of sherry, draws it out and pours the collected liquid into the closest empty glass, or copa, held out before him (or her). La Copa y la Venencia are therefore two instruments inextricably linked to the consumption of sherry in Spain and to the economy and culture of Jerez de la Frontera and its surrounding towns.
As mentioned, sherry is made using grapes specifically grown in the fields close to Jerez de la Frontera, and the drink’s manufacture also takes place in and around the city. Denomination of Origin laws now protect the producers of fortified wines in the Jerez region, much as they do with champagne and Parma ham. By law, grapes pressed and allowed to develop in an identical manner outside of a specific area cannot legally carry the label “sherry” without impunity. This legal framework now protects the brand from lower quality knock-offs that have been historically produced as far away as Germany, and has subsequently contributed to the steadily growing popularity of the drink in the North American, European and East Asian markets as the drink’s quality has become more consistent.
This tiny region is known as the “Sherry Triangle” and is defined by the existence of a very unusual type of soil. “Albariza” soil contains a high amount of Calcium Carbonate, more commonly known as chalk. During the winter, rain water passes easily through this porous soil, yet as the temperatures spike in Spain’s hot South through the rest of the year, the soil effectively bakes and prevents the deep pockets of moisture from evaporating. The only crops that can flourish in this climate are those that tolerate a high temperature and that grow roots deeper than most other crop species. These has narrowed the options for the local population for thousands of years, but via the process of trial and error, three good crops that grow in these tough conditions have been discovered, namely Palomino Fino, Moscatel and Pedro Ximenex. These just happen to be the grape varieties used in sherry production.
The Sherry Triangle therefore encompasses the towns and villages of Southwest Spain where chalk-rich soils and sweltering mean temperatures encourage the cultivation of these specific grape species and therefore an economy centered around the production of fortified wines. Yes, the earth immediately outside the Sherry Triangle also has a high concentration of Calcium Carbonate and therefore can be used to farm the three grape species mentioned. However, the manufacture of sherry cannot legally take place outside of the triangle comprised by three settlements; Jerez de la Frontera, El Puerto de Santa Maria and Sanlúcar de Barrameda. The second should ring a bell; it is the location of the opponents in the final of this year’s Trofeo de la Copa y la Venencia, Racing Club Portuense.
As a matter of fact, almost all entrants in the cup are from cities and towns located in or close to the Sherry Triangle. The host side, Jerez Industrial CF, always invites a rival club from the region to compete in a friendly competition named after the sherry paraphernalia identifiable on the club’s crest. Below is a graphic that plots out the Sherry Triangle and every club located inside the Cádiz province that has competed in the Trofeo de la Copa y la Venencia since its inception in 1976. Only two clubs that have competed in the cup are located outside of the province entirely; Real Betis II and CD Utrera, but both are in or close to Seville, the city where annual sherry sales are some of the highest in the world. Otherwise the minor trophy rotates between regional clubs, many of whose fans are employed either directly in the sherry manufacturing industry or in supporting occupations. As such, those who struggle to translate El Trofeo de la Copa y la Venencia effectively into English could be forgiven for simply going with the moniker “The Sherry Cup”.
I arrived fifteen minutes late to the Estadio de la Juventud, though the scoreboard told me I had missed little. For a meager €4 I was granted entry into the ground alongside maybe a hundred other individuals and one heck of a sunset. The action was fast paced yet lacking in precision. Racing Club Portuense, playing in an unfamiliar yet appealing combination of banana yellow and lime green, deservedly clawed back a second-half equaliser to counter Jerez Industrial’s strike before the interval. An ultimate victor was obligatory, thus the game descended into penalties. Two consecutive misses from the Portuenses was enough to give Jerez Industrial a victory on their own turf, in their own cup…. and venencia.