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Fiestas de la Vendimia: Tasting Sherry During the Harvest Festival in Jerez

The Jerez “Fiestas de la Vendimia” or harvest festival, which first happened in 1948, is in full swing at the moment. This is one harvest festival which is worth a visit, especially if you are keen on Sherry. This year the festival started on the 5th of September and ends on the 20th, so three weeks packed full of activities.

As Spain is a Catholic country, seeking a bit of divine intervention goes without saying. You know, to make sure the grapes come in OK, fermentation does not get stuck and everyone has fun at the festival. So, accordingly, last Sunday, following long-standing tradition, an old-school press was set up in the Cathedral square and group of traditionally dressed men climbed up into the “trough”. Stomping around in their hob-nailed boots, they made juice, which was then carried off in big metal jugs, called “jarras” to be blessed. I’m sure the bodegueros were saying a little prayer too, that the pickers would not go on strike as they have been threatening; the pickers in their turn were no doubt praying the bodegueros would cough up and pay them more money. Sadly, this year I was not at the Cathedral to record the “Pisa de la Uva” ceremony, but there are some nice pictures at this gallery.

A fairly new addition to the harvest festival is the tent city in the main square, Plaza Arenal. Each little tent is occupied by one of the bodegas and from a stall nearby you can buy tasting glasses and tickets, which can then be exchanged for a decent slug of whichever wine you choose. I find it really interesting and fun going from one tent to the next, trying the different wines and comparing them to each other, such a fantastic idea. It’s not often that you get so many different Sherries all in one place. Tent city becomes quite crowded in the evenings and is obviously a popular thing. It was first tried last year and I’m so glad they have decided bring it back again this year, and I hope it will be there every harvest festival!

Besides the tasting in the main square, most of the bodegas also have open days during the festival – “puertas abiertas” – where you can turn up anytime, be shown around and try their Sherries. There is an programme of tutored tastings in the beautiful moorish fortress, the Alcazar. These “catas magistrales” are usually lead by a senior person from the bodega in question and are accompanied by a selection of mouthwatering tapas to “marry” with each wine.

For those looking for something a little more cultural, and slightly less intoxicating, there is lots to see and do. There are painting and photography exhibitions, with the obligatory grape harvest theme, and for those of an academic bent with the required spanish language skills, a round of lectures are provided about wine. Flamenco lovers can attend several performances, which of course, include a glass of sherry to sip. Even the local bullfighting school give demonstrations, while two local riding schools put on shows in addition to the various concerts playing around town. Finally there is even an opportunity to be taken out into the vineyards and watch the sun set over the Atlantic, all whilst sipping on a Sherry.

The next Fiestas de la Vendimia is scheduled for 4th-19th September 2010.

Details will eventually appear on the town hall website.


Justin Roberts

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