t’s that time of the year again. The little green and red orbs have gotten plump and fat, full of juice and sugar and are ready to be plucked, crushed, fermented and turned into that most wonderful of drinks: wine!
Yes, it’s time for the cosecha, the harvest. And this means, in short, a new vintage with a new character. Was it a cool year or hot? Were there Spring hails that damaged the crop thus reducing the final amount of wine? Was it a wet or dry year? All these things have affected the grapes since winter ended and have been changing the course of life for our little fruit-balls.
The farmers have been monitoring the grapes and are now at the stage when they need to choose when to pick which ones. Am I going to hand pick or use machines…or donkeys? Have the grapes ripened enough to have attained the right levels of sugar that I need? How is the upcoming weather looking? Let me check the forecast and see how long I can leave my grapes on the vine before some rain comes and ruins everything.
The harvest and the timing thereof is as much a speculative lottery as it is ancient agricultural learning. Start off with the grapes for the sparkling wines, we want acidity and less of that pesky sugar. Then the white grapes, the reds and finally, if we are making it, the late harvest wine grapes. You can monitor scientifically, using scales like the Brix scale that measures sugar levels. Or, like the veterans, eat the grape and see if it tastes right.
The picked grapes are then sorted on tables to remove any diseased or damaged fruit. After that the crusher-destemmers, mythical machines which, though I understand the function, I still don’t really understand how they seem to work, remove the stems and seeds before the squished grapes go to the fermentation tanks to eventually start their journey to becoming wine.
The harvest is often a time of celebration in the wine world. Indeed, harvest festivals of many crops and many religions are a focal point of the year. In many wineries over the world there are ‘events’ where members of the public or local villagers and families get into the vineyards to pick grapes or take part in a traditional foot stomp to get the process underway.
In Spain there are plenty of ‘fiestas de la vendimia’; grape harvest festivals, mostly in September. There are usually street food stands grilling chorizo and pancetta, bunting, and a whole lot of local wine flowing freely into plastic cups, live music, processions, traditional dance and dress.
Some notable fiestas include: Fiesta del Vino in Olite (1-3 September), Fiesta de la Vendimia de Montilla (1-4 September), Fiesta de la Vendimia del Vino de Jerez (1-17 September), Las Fiestas de la Vendimia Riojana (20-25 September in Logroño). A lot of the wine towns, like Requena, Valdepeñas, Cariñena, Rueda will have fiestas. Where do you want to drink? Put into Google with the words ‘fiesta de vino’ or ‘fiesta de la vendimia’ and there will most likely be something.
There’s also the Rias Baixas ‘bus do viño’ that takes you around various bodegas and eateries during harvest time; the Vendimia del Vino de Calidad in Cangas de Narcea in Asturias that takes place 12-15 October – yes there’s wine in them hills; and, interestingly, the 3rd (only third somehow) Gran Fiesta de la Vendimia in Ribera del Duero (Aranda del Duero).
With a little planning and desire to ruin your liver just that little bit more it’s easy enough to attend these fiestas. I would also suggest as a final thing following our local DO Vinos de Madrid on Facebook as some of our local pueblos like Alcala, Navalcarnero, San Martin, also host their own fiestas.