The most ancient mention of Sherry comes from a Greek geographer of the first century B:C:.He wrote that the first vines were brought by the Phoenicians in 1100 B.C.. Twon winepresses have recently been discovered in Phoenician site dated of the four century B.C., at just 4km from Jerez in Castillo de Doa Blanca.
This confirms that the people which founded Cdiz (Gades) brought the knowledge of growing vines and making wines from the far-off lands of Lebanon. Xera ,that was the Phoenician name for the region of Jerez, produced wine and exported it to the Mediterranean Basin and especially to Rome.
During the Moorish occupation of Spain (starting in 711 AD), in Jerez, that last over 5 centuries, they established a wine-producing centre in spite of the Koran's prohibition. The production of raisins and the distilling of alcohol for medical purposes were to a certain extent, excuses for keeping the wine production. But it was the Caliph Al-Haken II, that ordered the grubbing-up of the vineyards on the religious grounds in Jerez, (1/3 of the vineyard in total)
The conquest of the city of Jerez by Alfonso X in 1264 brought a big change for the wines of Jerez. The king Alfonso himself had vineyards in Jerez and he was personally interested in their care. In the following centuries after the Reconquest from the Moors, Xeres along with other towns around marked the limits of the Kingdom of Castile and thus received the name "Jerez de la Frontera".
In that period and even in the 12th century, the sherry wines were exported to England where there were very well appreciated becoming very popular when Henry I, proposed an agreement to the "Jerezanos"(the people from Jerez) :English wool for Sherry wine. From then, the vineyards and the wine industrie became one of the most important source of wealth for the kingdom that Enrique III of Castile prohibited by Royal Order the grubbing up of even a single vine.
The increasing demand for sherry wines by English, Flemish and French merchants make that the city's government proclaimed the first rules concerning of the sherry Denomination of Origin to regulate harvest, ageing system and commercial procedures.
New markets were opened together with the discovery of America. Trade with the Indies transformed the small family business into a big industrial operations. We can imagine the popularity of sherry in the old times from the works of William Shakespeare, who with his friend Ben Johnson at the Bear's Tavern used to drink few bottles every day.The Bard refers to it frequently in many of his plays ; Richard II, A Mindsummer Night's Dream, etc.
In the 19th century the sherry wines were very different from the wines that we recognise as Sherry now. The rules of the Vintners' Guild did not allow to store the wines of different vintages, so the wines exported were always very young wines highly fortified to preserve them during their long voyage.