Spain: Peeps at Many Lands - Edith A. Browne

Spanish Industries

Nearly all the most important Spanish industries have been developed in connection with agriculture. Among them, wine-making holds a prominent position, and, as a branch of this industry, sherry-making is of special interest, as it is a prime factor of Spanish commerce.

Sherry, or Jerez, was first imported by England about the time of Henry VII.; it became very popular in the days of Elizabeth, retained a hold on our wine-market throughout successive periods of change in popular taste, and has recently been coming more into favour with connoisseurs and leaders of fashion in the fine art of wine-drinking. It is made from Jerez grapes, which are of several varieties and flavours, natural differences which, combined with variations in the process of manufacture, account for the many classes of wine that are legitimately entitled to bear the family name.

Let us go into the vineyards at the time of harvest, and from there follow up, in a general way, the process of sherry-making. The grapes are picked and carefully sorted, and are then spread out on reed-mats to dry in the sun. They are next carried or carted to some near-at-hand centre, where the pressing operations are conducted; and before they find their way into any artificial crusher they are naturally pressed by being trampled underfoot—which is to say, trodden in the wine-press of Biblical times. The juice is put into vats, where it is left to ferment. After fermentation, the wine is racked from the lees; it is then left to attain the age of four or five years, at the expiration of which period it can, if so desired, be exported. Before it is ready to leave home, however, it must be clarified and fortified by the addition of a little madre vino—very rich old wine.

The bodegas, or wine-cellars, of Jerez are the feature of the town; they are vast shed-like structures, capable of holding several thousand butts, so, although they do not typify beauty, they represent considerable wealth. As the owners are very hospitable, even the visitor who does not represent some great import-house in the trade may make an acquaintance with all kinds of the genuine wine in these extensive sherry-making factories and sherry storage cellars.

The manufacture of olive-oil constitutes another leading Spanish industry. In the Central and Northern districts the olives are picked in November and December; in the South the harvest is gathered in the autumn. Father climbs up the trees and beats off the fruit, whilst mother and the children scramble to pick them up. The berries are sun-dried a little, and then crushed in a primitive stone mill: there is a circular hollowed stone on the ground, into which the fruit is put, and another heavy stone is placed above and moved about by a mule to do the crushing. The crushed mass is transported on round mats, made of esparto-grass, to a press, where, by old-fashioned mechanical contrivances, the oil is set free, a great quantity being wasted in the process. The oil then has to stand for about a month, so that the refuse may settle; after this, the clear oil is poured off, but when purer qualities are desired the settling and skimming processes have to be repeated.

The pickling of olives is another industrial source of wealth. The green berries are soaked in a weak solution of caustic potash, which softens the skins and extracts some of the bitterness. They are next washed very thoroughly, and put to soak in fresh water. Subsequently they are placed in brine, and when they have become sufficiently salted they are packed in barrels and despatched to wholesale warehouses. The big dealers bottle off the best olives for the high-class markets, and sell the inferior qualities in casks.

Packing lemons in Malaga.


Spain takes a very active part in the raisin trade, exporting large quantities of the finest dessert fruit. The best-dried muscatels are produced by Malaga, which annually disposes of about two and a half million boxes, each containing twenty-two pounds. The grapes are dipped in a mixture of water, ashes, and oil, after which they are dried in the sun.

Silk is made at Valencia, where mulberry-trees thrive. The methods of manufacture are old-fashioned, but an export trade has been established, and is on the increase. The manufacture of cane-sugar is carried on in Malaga, which is the centre of the cane-growing districts, but this industry has not yet reached a high stage of development. The manufacture of cotton is in its infancy, and the once famous wool trade of Spain has now become of considerably less importance, owing to the slackness of Spanish sheep-breeders, and the keen, intelligent competition of sheep-farming rivals in many other parts of the world. The cork-forests, notably those in Almoraima, are an important source of wealth.

Apart from agriculture, the chief industrial resources of Spain are centred in her mines, tobacco factories, and sword factories. The mineral wealth of Spain is enormous, and much care and attention are devoted to the development of the mining industry; it is in a healthy and flourishing condition, but the production is capable of being enormously increased by a wider application of improved mining methods, and by the provision of better local transport facilities. England is one of the best customers for Spanish ores nearly all the mercury used in the British Isles comes from Spain, principally from Almaden.

The manufacture of tobacco in Spain has no connection with the country's agricultural wealth, since the raw material is all imported.

Spanish steel has always been famous, and, before the days of gunpowder, Spanish swords were of world-wide renown. The sword-makers of Toledo, Valencia, and Zaragoza were artists as well as armourers, and their highly ornamented masterpieces were fine works of art, as well as most trustworthy weapons. For practical purposes, good swords are still made at Toledo, but these modern weapons are a class of arms quite distinct from the romantic-looking blades designed for medieval warfare.