Wine festivals are an integral part of winemaking tradition across both Europe and the New World, celebrating the culmination of months of hard work in the vineyard, with what should hopefully be a healthy and plentiful harvest. For winemakers, however, the hard work is just beginning; for visitors to the wine region, they offer a wonderful opportunity to participate in exuberant, fun and often noisy festivals showcasing music, grape treading and, of course, copious amounts of wine! Not to mention the chance for enthusiasts to help pick the grapes, and get into the heart and soul of winemaking.
Historically, some festivals have been taking place for centuries, others are relatively recent occurrences. The formats vary but usually, large amounts of drinking is obligatory, in addition to processions and other events. The size and scope will be different in each region – the following are some of the most exciting harvest festivals across the wine world:
1. St-Emilion, France
More Info: Jurade de St-Emilion
Bordeaux‘s most renowned and pretty village also happens to host one of Europe’s best and unmissable harvest celebrations – marking the region’s nuit du patrimoine or heritage night. It all starts with members of the winemaking guild, the Jurade, parading in their scarlet robes across the village, before climbing to the top of St-Emilion’s church and proclaiming the date that the harvest may start. The atmosphere in the evening is electric; every restaurant is full of both vignerons and visitors, who file out after their delicious feasts to watch the spectacular fireworks display. Make no mistake, this is a celebration that everyone takes very seriously, and few villages in France mark the harvest festival like St-Emilion!
Visit Saint Emilion as part of a Bordeaux Wine Tour
2. La Rioja, Spain
More Info: La Feria de San Mateo
Rioja’s feisty inhabitants love festivals and none more so than the traditional festival that marks the start of the grape harvest in the administrative capital, Logrono. All the residents turn out for this fantastic celebration, filling the bars and streets with their noisy exuberance until the early hours of the morning.
The festival dates back over 900 years and takes place on St Matthew’s Day, on the 21 September in the city’s main square, the Espolon. The week-long festival, which is littered with historical references, commences with grape treading and an offering of the first grape juice to the Patron of La Rioja, followed by a colorful procession. The displays are wonderful and portray the importance of wine in the region. The exuberant bands, bullfights, and dramatic fireworks display ensure that the festival is one of the most enjoyable in Spain. And who can argue with plenty of free-flowing delicious Rioja wines?
Visit La Rioja on a Wine Tour
3. Douro Valley, Portugal
More Info: Douro Film Harvest Festival
The wine world’s most creative and bespoke harvest festival, the Douro region of Portugal has successfully merged the mediums of cinema, gastronomy and the grape harvest in recent years; offering an impressive array of events, presentations, film screenings and, of course, wine tasting. Taking place at the height of the Douro grape harvest, the festival showcases the best of art-house cinema, fine dining, and local wine, usually beginning with the opening presentation that sets the scene. Quite literally a feast for culture vultures; an impressive calendar of events are rolled out, including harvest presentations and talks, film previews, a competition for best film in several categories, cooking demonstrations, and free-flowing port wines. The events take place at venues across the region, culminating with a final gala dinner; a gastronomic feast like no other and awards for the films. Several stars have attended in the past, including Sophie Loren and Andie McDowell, so those looking for some glamour in addition to the cultural delights will leave happy! A wonderful and unique festival.
Visit Douro Valley as part of a Portugal Wine Tour
4. Tuscany, Italy
More Info: Festa dell’Uva (Grape Festival)
Every year, during the last Sunday of September a small village is transformed into a colorful, vibrant and heady celebration of the year’s grape harvest – the Festa dell’Uva in Impruneta. Located at the very heart of the historic – and stunning – Chianti Classico zone, the festival tradition started in 1926, celebrating the wonderment of the grape that brought so much joy and prosperity to the region. Today, it is a massive draw for both locals and tourists, who marvel at the opening lavish procession containing floats built by the four different districts of Impruneta. However, that is only the start of the proceedings, as a slew of colorful dances, street performances, food & wine tastings and much exuberance follow. A raft of food stalls keeps visitors nourished. The fun usually starts at around 12 pm, with the parade kicking off at 3:30 pm this year.
Visit Tuscany on a Wine Tour
5. Medoc, France
More Info: Marathon du Medoc
What better way to celebrate the Medoc’s upcoming grape harvest than by running through the entire region, taking in many of Bordeaux’s most beautiful Chateau, vineyards, and scenery. The Marathon du Medoc used to be one of France’s best-kept secrets but no more; now thousands of locals and visitors eagerly participate in this most unique and enjoyable of Marathons. Many people undertake the three-day event in fancy dress (this year’s theme is countries of the world and their carnivals) so expect much flamboyance, color and drinking, and eating. But on a marathon, you may ask? Well, the Bordelais take their food & drink very seriously, so many stalls offer wine and food pit stops during the race, including steak, oysters, ice-cream, and cheese. So, not a marathon for the very competitive!
But the real highlight is undoubtedly the eve of the race when numerous Medoc Chateau opens up their cellars and tasting rooms for the participants to sample their delicious wines; one property will also offer a series of dinners; this year it is Chateau Phelan Segur who are hosting. But this is just the start of the party, in Paulliac, revelers celebrate well into the small hours with much drinking, eating, and dancing. The evening after the race, a spectacular fireworks display rounds the proceedings off in style.
Visit Medoc as part of a Bordeaux Wine Tour
6. Jerez de la Frontera, Spain
More Info: Jerez harvest festival
The capital of fortified wine in Spain’s stunning Andalusia region plays hosts to a pretty spectacular harvest festival during the first Saturday of every September. First-time visitors to the party should pace themselves; for no one does festivals and partying quite like the Andalusian. This three-week affair encompasses flamenco, parades, exhibitions, concerts, bullfighting, and, of course, tapas and sherry galore. The town really is at its finest during the harvest month, celebrating the annual event with an unparalleled abundance of color, liveliness and joie de vivre.
It begins with the opening Queen of Sherry parade, where the eye-catching Queen, accompanied by her handmaidens on a suitably lavishly decorated wagon leads a procession through the town, finishing at the Plaza de Arenal. There, she tosses the first bunch of grapes into the press, signifying the start of the year’s harvest. Sweets and other goodies are thrown to the crowds of children and the party gets into full swing. Expect all manner of events in the center and also in the region’s biggest wineries; sherry lovers are in heaven, those with other interests can enjoy all manner of entertainments, and gorge on tapas to their heart’s content!
Visit Jerez as part of an Andalusia Food & Wine Tour
7. Mosel, Germany
More Info: Boppard Wine Festival
The Rhine valley’s most picturesque and chocolate box town, Boppard enjoys one of Germany’s most lively and welcoming festivals, with the town’s vignerons welcoming a large number of tourists from around the world each autumn to celebrate, drink and toast the harvest. The festival is very relaxed, with no major procession or singular event, but rather food and drink stalls fill the lovely market square day and night, offering samples of local wines and delicious local delicacies. Live music continues into the night, with various speeches and announcements during the day from the area’s winemakers and harvest festival organizers, about the expected quality of the vintage. The proceedings are rounded off nicely with a stupendous fireworks display, which takes place on both the 26 September and the following Saturday. Wunderbar!