Get the grapes in! Mendoza’s Vendimia Harvest Festival

Sonja D'cruze

Sonja D'cruze

Mooching around Mendoza’s vineyards is never a bad idea, but head there at the end of summer and you’ll be lucky enough to catch the cultural highlight of the Mendocino calendar – la Fiesta de la Vendimia. Vendimia literally means grape harvest, when fincas (wine estates) across the region are bursting with sugar sweet grapes hanging heavy and plump on the vines under the late summer sun – soon to be picked, processed and poured into a large wine glass near you. And that’s what Vendimia is all about – celebrating all the bountiful produce and hard work that goes into making Mendoza, Argentina’s top wine producer. But don’t mistake this for being a tame affair – things can get wild – especially at the alternative Gay Vendimia party where just about anything goes.

Naturally, The Real Argentina was there doing the hard work this year and in our photo grape guide you’ll find out all the need to knows. So sit back, read-up, and drink-up a delicious glass of Argento wine as you slurp down the background and get set for the next time Vendimia rolls around.

Vintage Vendimia poster 1936. Photo: vendimia.mendoza.gov.ar

Early roots…

The earliest harvest festival on record dates back over a century to April 1913 when floats and parades filled the streets at the end of the Congress of Industry & Commerce. The vamped up and frankly extravagant version that exists today was only officially inaugurated on April 18th, 1936.

Festivity Line-up…

Vendimia fever really starts building towards the end of February but the showy rituals are mostly condensed into a few heady days over the first weekend in March, which see all carnival bases covered – from religious ceremonies to old-skool beauty queen contests.

Bendición de Los Frutos

The bendición – or blessing – see’s Mendocino’s pay homage to the Virgin of the Carrodilla in gratitude for the bumper load of grapes bestowed on their vines that year. Held during the last week of February – the Archbishop of Mendoza leads the ceremony, supported by various government heads, truckloads of locals, tourists and – to make things look extra pretty – the beauty queens voted for from across the province.

Vía Blanca de Las Reinas

The praying soon gives way to parades and partying and the first Friday in March is when Vendimia excitement rolls out on to the streets – literally. First, a glass is raised in honour of the nominated beauty queen’s of the year at the Presentation of the Candidatas al Trono Nacional, and once that’s over – it’s time for the nocturnal treats to begin.

Fancifully decorated, the glitzy, music pumping floats representing Mendoza’s 18 districts weave their way through the whooping and cheering crowds. Themed with all things grapey and good about Argentina – tourists and locals bob and weave to get a good gawp at their favourite Vendimia Queen hopeful as they smile and wave and smile and wave and…blow kisses to their admiring public.

Top Tip: Avoid the gridlock. Ditch the car and head out on foot to muscle-in on the fun of the floats. Most main roads around the city are cut-off and it’ll be a bugger to find parking – get in – get out or indeed – anywhere. Proceedings kick off around 10pm, but with crowds of up to 200,000 each year, you’ll need to bagsy a spot early on if you want to see anything.

Carrusel de Las Reinas

Why have one parade when you can have two? After the Vía Blanca de Las Reinas, Vendimia continues with a slightly bleary-eyed 9am start on Saturday morning. This is the chance for proud Mendocino’s to really show-off their criollo roots with traditional shows of folclore music and dancing. Gauchos strut elegantly in their bombachas (traditional country trousers) and berets whilst others show off their horsemanship finesse. Segue that scene into a culture clash of sequined costumes and visceral drums which must mean the murgueros have arrived! The traditional marching bands of percussionists and dancers bring the booty shaking carnival beats to the table – quite a wake up call!

The Carrusel parade through Mendoza’s streets 1953. Photo: vendimia.mendoza.gov.ar

Top Tip: Go local and bring a basket or fishing net along (seriously) so you can catch the random produce thrown from the passing floats. It’s a classic Vendimia thing, but be warned – this is no joke for locals and you might get elbowed by an abuela (grandma) in the scrum for the fruits and veggies chucked overboard.

Explosions of confetti and colour in the Acto Central. Photo: vendimia.mendoza.gov.ar

El Acto Central

The biggest draw of Vendimia El Acto Central is a huge stage show spectacle. Think abridged Olympics opening ceremony and you’re getting the idea. Held in the Teatro Griego Frank Romero Day amphitheatre just outside town – you’ll see strobe lights and hear the whipped up crowd before you enter the hallowed gates.

Con el vino en la piel,’ was this year’s theme. Loosely translated as ‘wine is skin deep,’ it goes to show – as if proof were needed – just how integral wine is to Mendocino’s. 2017 also marks the 200-year anniversary since General San Martín (1778-1850) led the nation to Independence from Spain and the theme set up the night’s performances. Over 1000 athletic performers took spectators on a historical dance-filled journey through Argentina’s past from folclore to waltzes, polka to tango. Huarpes, the original people of the Cuyo region were honoured as well as recognition of the multitudes of immigrants which have landed on the continent’s shores. Claudio Brachetta directed the gifted band of live musicians who shone across all genres.

Honouring General San Martín in the Acto Central extravaganza.

Things kicked off a day later than planned this year due to a near fatal accident where a crane fell on to the stage during rehearsals, bringing part of the rigging down with it. Consequently, all the performances were pulled and its credit to director Héctor Moreno and the performers who managed to improvise and rapidly adapt so the show could go on. It wouldn’t be Argentina without a protest though and a number of performers circled the stage at the finale, one hand over their mouths, the other pointing at where the crane had fallen.

Top Tip: The ticketed event is often a sell-out so make sure you get in early on ticket sales by keeping an eye on Mendoza’s government press web. Saturday night is the main show down where the Vendimia Queen is announced but if you miss out – the performance is repeated the following two days – minus Queens – but with the Sunday addition of folclore bands and rock nacional on Monday night. If you’re really out of luck with tickets or just don’t fancy paying, join other locals and scale to the top of the Cerro de la Gloria hill which the auditorium is built into. The hosts even given the hill dwellers a shout-out as they soak up the on-stage action.

The Queens

The hopeful Vendimia Queens to be really are treated like royalty. Not the most modern element of the celebrations, they’re still integral to a tradition that goes back to the 1930’s. Each of the 18 districts vote for their own Queen who enters a battle of the beauties against the rest of the regions chosen ones. People love it. I was genuinely taken aback by the overflowing enthusiasm.

Celebrating with 2017’s Vendimia Queen & Vice Queen. Photo: vendimia.mendoza.gov.ar

Not without its controversy, 300 randomly selected spectators casted the deciding votes this year in a first for a new voting system. Masses of fans bussed in to support their fave girls and giant sized posters of the candidates – some even lit up with fairy-lights – were brandished with pride until the final votes came in. Whoops and screams bubbled up effusively from the super fans as their girls were mentioned.

Victoria Colovatti – a 20 year old psychology student from Maipú stole the crown this year alongside the Vice Queen, Romina Pettaro from San Carlos. But among the cheers a wave of ‘boo’s’ also erupted in response to one rival who’d apparently spoken about a ‘women’s place being in the home with the children.’ I think the irony was lost on the adoring fans enjoying the contest.

Queens of a different kind…

If all this harvest festival lark just sounds too tame for your liking – check out the alternative side at Vendimia Gay where the Queens are not always what they seem.

Colourfully camp at at Gay Vendimia. Photo: Diariouno.

The LBGT community knows how to put on a party and has been flying the festival flag for the last 20 years. The biggest gay shindig outside of Buenos Aires’ Pride festival sees headonists from around the world getting down under the banner, ‘Vendimia for Everyone.’

Events go on throughout the second week of March and like the Acto Central – are topped off by a brazen extravaganza at the Arena Maipú Stadium. Queens and Kings are crowed here in an altogether more sensationally sexed up mix of drag artists, pole dancers and DJ’s. Not for the uninitiated!

Top Tip: This years tickets were sold via Evenpass.

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Sonja D'cruze

Sonja D'cruze

Sonja is a freelance journalist who studied at the London College of Communication. After working as a radio producer for the BBC, she got a ticket to carnival in Rio de Janeiro and then made her way on many a long bus to Buenos Aires. She stayed, lured by a love of porteño life and its Castellano speaking people. The city still surprises and she's not done with it yet, always on the hunt to uncover something creative, beautiful, tasty or just plain weird, behind one of BA's many unassuming doors. She writes, dabbles in tango, loves yoga and longs to be good at playing the trumpet.


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