The Vendimia: A Guide to Chile’s Harvest Festivals
If you ask anyone when the most exciting time is to visit wineries and wine festivals in Chile, they’ll tell you it’s during the vendimia, or the harvest festival. Vendimias are locally-held events that are hosted by municipalities with the idea of bringing together wines from nearby valleys to help visitors get a taste of what that region has to offer. Vendimias benefit winemakers because they can get out and meet people and talk to them about their wines, and they’re great for locals and vistors who want to try many different wines to really feel the pulse of each individual valley. But mostly, going to a vendimia is just a lot of fun, and offers a glimpse of what Chileans consider their strongest folkloric traditions, including dance, music and food.
At the vendimias, there are tastings, as well as traditional foods, such as empanadas (meat turnovers), local cheeses, as well as occasionally cueca (the national dance) competitions, the crowning of a vendimia queen, and grape crushing competitions. Many times these are held in a plaza, with stands set up all around, and lots of places to sit and relax in between tastings, to make an afternoon of it. Mid-March to Mid-April is when most of these vendimias are held, though exact dates can vary, depending on the year, and when the grapes are ready for harvest. Below are some of Upscape’s favorite vendimias in Chile.
This is one of the valleys that is closest in to Santiago, and the vendimia is held on a weekend usually in early April. It is busy, sometimes receiving as many as 45,000 visitors, but there is plenty of space in the plaza and surrounding streets to rest in the shade. Not all of the wineries in the valley are represented, so if you’d like to make a night of it, and follow up the next day with what you might have missed, you might want to book a local hotel.
Santa Cruz Vendimia
This is the most famous of the vendimia celebrations in Chile, partially because the Colchagua valley has some of the more established wineries in the country, and also because of the wine museum and other wine-related tourism in Santa Cruz. There are also top-notch places to stay here, including the Casona at Lapostolle. The Santa Cruz vendimia has cueca (national dance) competitions, the crowning of a queen, bands, and guided tastings. Many people make a weekend of it, either going on successive days, or going to the vendimia one day and enjoying the surroundings the next. Look for the Colchagua Valley/Santa Cruz Vendimia in early March.
Pirque Wine Celebration
This close-in to Santiago wine festival, timed to coincide with the vendimias, goes by a different name. It still has tastings of local wines, a rodeo demonstration at the media luna (corral). It has been held since 2005, and has a rural/country atmosphere, including music, local food, and a big wine sale at the end, when winemakers sell some stock at reduced prices. It is easy to go to this festival and return to the comfort of your Santiago hotel. The Pirque Wine Celebration is usually held in early to mid April.
If vendimia season catches you a bit further from Santiago, you are still in luck, with vendimias held in many other valleys. At Upscape, we are big fans of the one held in Curicó, organized by the Migel Torres winery, the oldest in Chile, and generally held the second to last weekend in March. Another we’re particularly fond of is held in Talca, and represents the Maule valley, a strong producer of one of Chile’s most interesting new/old wines called País, made from a descendent of the Mission grape first brought to the continent by Spanish clergy to make sacramental wine. Look for this one the first weekend of April. If you’re going to be elsewhere, ask around, as new wine-related events are cropping up every year in Chile.