Apart from the fact that the sun shines in the summer one of the most undeniable aspects of Spanish life is that throughout the country you are guaranteed to find a festival every week of the year. And given the Spanish affection for their wine it’s of no great surprise to find that many of the festivals scattered around the country come under the denomination of Fiestas de la Vendimia – Festivals of Wine.
Although it is probably the red wines from Rioja, the sherries from Jerez and the more recently internationally discovered wines from Ribera del Duero that are recognised as quality wines nearly every region of Spain has its own vineyards some of them producing wines of a surprisingly high calibre. And for every wine-producing region there will be a series of Fiestas de la Vendimia.
In many of the wine growing areas the festivals begin around about September 21st but there are lots of places which celebrate their new vintage at different times. Around the third week of May, for example, there is a delightful festival dedicated to the local Manzanilla held in Sanlucar de Barrameda. This lovely town at the mouth of the Guadalquivir river looking across at the Doñana National Park produces a fino wine, very similar to sherry but unfortified and with a delightful delicate flavour that the locals say obtains its delicacy from the sea breezes working their way through the bodegas. The quality of the sea food here is best enjoyed with a glass of manzanilla whilst listening to local flamenco – it doesn’t get much better.
During March you’ll find a fantastic feiro do viño in the small market town of Chantada in the province of Lugo in the very heart of Galicia. Chantada is a typical Galician town with Romanesque churches, steep terraced vineyards and hill forts from the iron ages. You will find fabulous Albariño wines and spicy young red wines made from the mencía grape. The accompanying food of choice is pulpo (octopus) which is cooked up in enormous copper cauldrons – into which you dip the crusty bread that is a speciality of the nearby village of Cea. Spend all night dancing to a local band and then do the very same thing the next day!
If you’re a fan of bathing in wine as well as drinking it then perhaps think about a visit to Haro in La Rioja at the end of June for the Feast of Saint Peter. It is here that they have a spectacular Batalla del Vino in which hundreds of people throng the streets with huge plastic bottles or leather bags of wine that they proceed to spray over everyone else. Don’t wear your best clothes and you’ll probably have great fun. It also helps that the town of Haro is reputed to be one of the finest places for tapas in the whole of the region, as well.
Towards the end of August there is another opportunity for a soaking in the Fiesta de la Vendimia in the Valencian town of Requena, only this time it’s with water. On the noche de zurra the people parade the streets calling for water to help with the next year’s grape harvest. Neighbours and firemen alike then delight in making their prayers come true by using hoses and buckets to totally soak the paraders. You will find that wine from the year’s first pressing will help the recovery process.
In La Rioja, Spain’s most famous wine-producing region, the fiestas are generally held towards the end of September especially around St Matthew’s Day (San Mateo), the 24th. The most celebrated, and biggest, of these is at the capital of the province, Logroño. Here the grape harvest is commemorated with a complete week devoted to parades, bull fights, concerts, street theatre, ball games, fireworks and, of course, wine.
The whole event begins when, in the Paseo del Espolon, there is an opening ceremony in which, accompanied by blaring horns, men stomp grapes in a large barrel ready to offer the first juice of the year to the patroness of La Rioja, the Virgen de Valvanera.
As with all of the festivals, food plays almost as large a part in the process as the wine itself. In Logroño the speciality revolves around food cooked in the sarmientos – wood saved from last year’s pruning of the grape vines. Especially delicious is the local lamb and the very hungry, or competitive, visitor might want to participate in the chuleta (chop) eating competitions.
There are many, many more Wine Festivals throughout the country each of them having its own special atmosphere and customs. Although the famous ones have attracted visitors over the years there is a special delight to be found by discovering a small fiesta in a little village somewhere that helps illustrate the great dependency, and love, the Spanish have for their wine.