The Vendemmia in Puglia
Italy is synonymous with traditions and festivals. Every weekend, there is always a festival, a sagre or raccolta celebrating one tradition. The Vendemmia in Puglia, the southern part of Italy, is a big tradition practised since time immemorial. Vendemmia, which translates to harvest, is the festival that indicates the start of the harvest of wine grapes, which takes place from the second week in August to the first week in October. During the harvest, the grapes are harvested depending on their type, degree of ripeness and desired outcome and processed for producing different wines.
The Vendemmia is an old tradition in the region that stems from a culture of paying homage to the land and respecting its gifts – the fruits. During the celebration of this tradition, participants relive the emotions and the fun involved in the harvesting process as they go from the vines to must-make.
The celebration starts with a visit to the vines, one of the most common trees in Puglia. The separation of the grapes from the stalks occurs afterwards, a process called de-stemming, which is done using small peasant baskets. Then comes the fun part – the crushing of grapes with clean bare feet in huge vats, a process called pressing. Although an old method is no longer utilised during winemaking, pressing wine with bare feet remains a fun tradition during Vendemmia in Puglia.
Many visitors look forward to the wine stomping contest during the festival, and many wineries hold the competition to attract visitors.
After the stomping, the vines are transferred to specific presses, machines that are designed to press and remove the skins from the grape juice. The must is then transferred to large demijohns where it will be left to ferment until 11 November (San Martino), the day during which, according to tradition, the first new wines are distilled.
The festival usually ends with a taste of local wines, lunch prepared with local products, songs and the famous pizzica dance.
In some parts of Puglia, a slightly different twist to the traditional festival of harvest is celebrated, the Vendemmia Delle Donne, the harvest of women. It is a day where teams of women work in the vineyards, harvesting grapple of Susiamenello while the men clean up around them. Also an age-old tradition, the Vendemmia Delle Donne used to be an avenue for single girls of marriageable age to freely check out the male selection, flirt and enjoy a bit of banter in the company of other female relatives and friends. In recent times, the festival has become an event to celebrate women, foster better relationships, and an avenue for people of all ages to celebrate the harvest in the hope that it will be an excellent year.
The Vendemmia highlights the opportunity to interact, build and strengthen relationships, and have fun while paying respects to the land and tradition.