Chilean wine

Chile's traditional festivals – Vendimia, the grape harvest

As vineyards across Chile fill with sweet-fingered helpers, the first vendimia of the year attracts celebrities and diplomats from around the world.

Friday, April 15, 2011  
The vendimia is traditionally a community affair in Chile’s wine regions. The vendimia is traditionally a community affair in Chile’s wine regions.

Cries of “¡canasto!” are ringing across the Chilean countryside during the month of April, as vineyards host their annual grape harvest and festival, known as the vendimia.


The vendimia is traditionally a community affair in Chile’s wine regions, when neighbors and family come to harvest the grapes. Historically, payment was in the form of a delicious lunch, some homemade wine - pipeño - from last year’s harvest, and the promise of helping your neighbors during their vendimia the next weekend.


Some family vineyards still celebrate the traditional vendimia, like in the small town of Cauquenes in the Maule region. During the day, people file into the vineyard in teams of two, filling woven baskets with the small purple fruits that make Chile’s famous wine. Once the baskets are filled, shouts of “canasto” – or “basket” – bring someone running with an empty basket, and then hoisting the filled basket to their shoulder and trotting away.


In cities such as Curicó and Isla de Maipo, the vendimia has taken on a more glamorous sheen, leaving the grape-picking to the vineyards while still preserving the traditional festivities.


This year, about 8,000 people celebrated the first day of the vendimia in Isla de Maipo on April 9, which closed with a presentation by national comedian Stefan Kramer. Present in the opening ceremony were ambassadors from China, Bulgaria, Thailand, Israel, India and Belgium, as well as diplomatic representatives from Sweden, Canada, Honduras, Ecuador, and the president of the Chilean senate, Guido Girardi.


During Curicó’s vendimia in early April, vineyards set up tents to show off their wines in the palm-lined plaza, and local artisans display their work. Vineyards bring teams to compete onstage in the “pisada,” or grape stomping, while traditional Chilean music plays on a nearby stage.


Whether a traditional day of grape-picking or a world-class festival, the vendimia always includes traditional food like empanadas and cazuela, and lots of wine. Every year, Curicó converts a fountain to spout wine instead of water, which people happily approach to fill a glass.


And no vendimia would be complete without the election for the Queen of the Vendimia, followed by a barbeque, dancing la cueca – Chile’s traditional dance – and, of course, more wine.

By Jackie Seitz