La Vendimia. Discover one of the most important festivals in Spain - la Fiesta de la Vendimia, the Wine Harvest Festival in Jerez de la Frontera.
La Vendimia in English is known as the harvesting of wine grapes. Vendimia can also refer to the vintage of a wine indicating that the wine was made from grapes that were grown and harvested at the same time. A non-vintage wine usually consists of blends from various years. The word is often used incorrectly to reference old or high quality wines.
Jerez de la Frontera, a world renowned winemaking town located in Andalusia, Spain, is home to one of the most popular festivals in Spain, the annual Fiesta de la Vendimia (grape harvest festival). The harvest festival traditionally takes place around the 8th of September and lasts approximately one week, but the date ultimately depends on when the harvest begins.
Winemaking in Spain is a tradition that dates back more than 3000 years going back to the Phoenicians, although archaeologists have found evidence of grape cultivation going back more than 5000 years. In Jerez de la Frontera, they have been producing wine since 1100 BC with the arrival of the Phoenicians. Fortified wines like Brandy and Sherry were introduced thanks to the Moors and the arrival of distillation which they brought with them around AD 711. Later, Sherry would go around the world as part of the supplies taken by Columbus and later with Magellan. It is said that Magellan spent more on Sherry than he did on weapons. Sherry would shoot to worldwide fame and recognition thanks to the English when Sir Francis Drake sacked Cadiz in 1587 and collected the stores of Sherry that were located there. The rest, as they say, is history.
Sherry wine is considered to be one of the hallmarks and identifying elements of Jerez and its culture—the name Jerez (and Sherry) comes from the Arabic word Sherish. La Fiesta de la Vendimia is a celebration of this heritage and the tradition of craftsmanship exemplified in the harvesting of grapes and production of wine. There are many activities during the festival including events linked to wine and its production, concerts, flamenco shows, bullfights, Spanish purebred equestrian shows, art expositions and more. At the end of the week, the festival culminates with a grand finale featuring an impressive fireworks display.
The grape harvest festival varies each year but generally begins with a procession that goes through the city. Here the entire city gets to see the newly crowned Harvest Queen who sits on a float in the parade accompanied by her maidens who are dressed in white dresses with blue silk scarves. The costumes are no accident since their outfit is representative of the chalky earth and the blue sky that graces this arid yet fertile landscape.
There is an endless list of other activities that are held throughout the week for the visitor. There are numerous workshops which deal with anything enological, master class wine tastings, wine related expos and a great fairground full of rides and food stalls. There is also a complete program of concerts, guided tours of the city and winery (bodega) tours. Best of all you will be able to see the traditional crushing of the grapes conducted by the townsfolk that refuse to let die these customs and traditions. In fact children also have a chance participate in this crushing and so they may learn and keep alive this traditional method of pressing grapes.
Finally, the most important ceremony is the Blessing of the Grapes. This ceremony takes place in a Sunday Mass outside on the steps of the Cathedral. In this ceremony the harvest queen pours a basket of grapes into a lager (traditional wooden container used for pressing grapes) and four men jump in and begin to crush the grapes with their feet. The mosto (grape juice) that is collected is presented to the priest to receive his blessing for a successful harvest. Once the priest gives his blessing, a choir begins to sing and white doves are released while jubilant ringing from the bell tower sounds throughout the city. That evening, people make their way to the feria (fairgrounds) to enjoy the typically warm evening and dream of successful harvest.
La vendimia is also celebrated in other places such as France and Latin America. One of the largest celebrations, the Fiesta Nacional de la Vendimia, takes place in the province of Mendoza in Argentina. There, it is a national holiday and one of the most important festivals in Argentina. This world renowned celebration of wine and wine making attracts many tourists each year. The event begins the first week of March in Mendoza City where hundreds of dancers and performers fill the streets. The Reina Nacional de la Vendimia (National Harvest Queen) presides over the event where there is also a large fireworks display.