The Wine Harvest Festival in Jerez de la Frontera. Discover one of the most important Spanish celebrations: la vendimia and the grape harvest festivals.
La Vendimia, in English is known as “vintage.” In wine-making the term vintage refers to the process of picking the grapes and creating the finished product. Vintage wine is one that is made from grapes that were grown and harvested at the same time while 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 town located in Andalusia, Spain, is home to a famous annual vendimia grape harvest festival, a tradition that is over 500 years old. Most vendimia grape harvests in Spain begin on the 21st of September, the day of St. Matthew. However, in Jerez de la Frontera the vintage festival typically begins on the closest weekend to the 8th of September, the Nativity of Our Lady. The actual vintage (grape collecting process) often starts a week early or late, depending on the weather conditions of the year, and lasts approximately one month.
Wine is considered to be one of the main hallmarks and identifying elements of Jerez and its culture. The prestige and quality of their sherry wine are inseparable elements of their city´s character which is rooted in history. Las Fiestas de la Vendimia are meant to praise this heritage and the traditional work involved in the collection of the grapes. There are many activities during the festival including concerts, flamenco shows, bullfights, equestrian purebred Spanish horse events, art expositions and more. The festival culminates with a grand finale event which features an impressive fireworks display.
The vendimia grape harvest festival varies each year but generally begins with a Grand Procession on Friday. The elected Queen of the vendimia sits in the seat of honor and is accompanied by Jerez maidens dressed in white dresses and blue silk scarves. The costumes represent the white chalky soil of the region and the blue skies that give life and body to their grape vines. The ladies are then driven through the streets on grape-vine decorated floats as they toss candy to the eagerly waiting children. Men from the town follow behind them, dressed up in festive masks.
The procession makes its way through to the Plaza de Arenal where the town gives homage to the Queen of the vendimia festival and drink wine which is distributed by the town bodegas (wine cellars). The vendimia is always dedicated to an individual or country where sherry wine is popular.
The most important ceremony, the Blessing of the Grapes, takes place on Sunday in the Collegiate Church. After the priest gives his blessing, the choir begins to sing and the queen pours her basket of grapes into the lagar (traditional wooden wine press) and four men with special boots begin to squash the grapes with their feet. This symbolic pisá event officially commences the festival which is celebrated by the releasing of white doves and jubilant ringing from the bell tower. The same evening, people makes their way to the feria (fair) to celebrate the festivities that have only just begun.
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. 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 the Mendoza City where hundreds of dancers and performers fill the streets. The Reina Nacional de la Vendimia (National Vintage Queen) presides the event and there is also a large fireworks display.