A Wine Lover's Guide to Wine Harvest Festivals
Fall is a great time to travel to Europe for many reasons, from truffle festivals to wine and olive harvests. In fact, there are numerous wine festivals in September and October to celebrate the grape. Whether you are a serious wine connoisseur or simply looking for an interesting cultural experience, any food or wine related festival is sure to be a treat for the savvy traveler. These events are not organized for tourists, but for the locals whose cultural heritage they celebrate.
In Italy there is probably a wine festival for every region, if not every community, particularly in the great wine growing regions (Sicily, Tuscany, Piedmont, Puglia, the Veneto, Umbria). In Umbria, the Montefalco wine festival celebrates Sagrantino, one of the oldest and most prized Italian wines, a red that is rich and complex. The festival, like most of its kind, will celebrate the wine harvest with tastings of past years' wines, meetings, music, cooking demonstrations, and wine pairings.
In Piedmont, of course, Barolo is still King of wines, and every September sees the streets and squares of this small area closed and covered with booths where local vintners let you sample their wares, accompanied by the amazing gastronomic specialties of the region. This year they boasted that the tastings will use completely compostable plates and silverware, just one example of the increasing focus on sustainability by Italy's winemakers and farmers. During the course of the festival visitors can visit the Regional Enoteca of Barolo, as well as the unique Corkscrew Museum.
Tuscany, of course, offers many Tuscan wine festivals, geared both for locals and tourists. The "Festa dell'Uva" (Grape Festival) in Impruneta is one of the most popular, and includes a ritualistic parade with allegorical carts sponsored by Impruneta's four districts. Music, folkloric dancing, tastings, and local handcraft are also part of the day. The festival is usually held the last Sunday of September, so there is still time to catch it this year! Chianti also has numerous festivals, including the Rassegna del Chianti Classico in Greve, in which you buy a glass and can then go and try any wine offered at the many booths, and another, smaller Chianti wine festival in Panzano ("Vino al Vino").
Not traveling to Italy?
Not to worry, there are wine festivals in many of our most popular destinations. In France in early October (Oct. 8-12 this year), the Clos Monmartre vineyard in Paris celebrates the Fête des Vendanges de Montmartre (Grape Harvest Festival), in which the long history of wine making in the area is celebrated. The festival dates back to before the second World War, and is a joyous event, complete with brass bands, folkloric dancers, fireworks, music, wine auctions, and of course, tastings!
Spain also offers many grape harvest festivals celebrating the end of the grape growing season. These are some of the most unique and exciting ways to witness the local culture and share its traditions first-hand. Not to be missed is the Rioja Grape Harvest Festival, in which the ritualistic crushing of the first grapes is done by two men in regional costume. They dance barefoot, arms linked, in a large tub (yes, à la "I Love Lucy"!), until the first jug of juice can be offered to the statue of the Virgin.
If you can't make it to Europe this fall, that doesn't mean a wine festival isn't in your future. Argentina, which has become one of the world's premier wine-producing countries, does its harvesting according to the seasons of the Southern Hemisphere, which means grape harvests happen in the Spring. In March of this year Mendoza hosted its 78th annual grape harvest festival, "La Fiesta Nacional de la Vendimia," a ten-day cultural celebration that attracts tourists from all over Argentina and all over the world. The festival includes a traditional blessing of the fruit, colorful parades, and an unbelievable folkloric spectacle held in an outdoor amphitheater.
Regardless of your destination, any food or wine festival is an experience not to be missed, a memory that will be cherished, and a way to access the local culture and traditions of your host country.
By Peg Kern