The calendar here in Andalucia is very much in tune with nature – marked by harvests of seasonal fruits, vegetables and other crops grown all around this fertile and highly productive area, from the lowlands with their rice, to the mushrooms in woodlands, and the rolling hills of olive trees.
One of the most important of these agricultural celebrations is the autumn vendimia, or grape harvest. Wine is made throughout Andalucia, but two of the most important regions are Jerez, where sherry is produced, and Malaga, home to the Malaga sweet wine, or moscatel as it’s made from sweet white muscatel grapes. This traditional event takes place on the Saturday closest to 8 September.
Even the smallest towns in Andalucia make their own wine – for example Manilva, a hilltop village in Malaga province, just inland from the coast, where a vendimia ceremony starts off with the grapes being blessed, as tradition dictates. The relationship between farming and religion in Andalucia is a close one; many consider the Virgin Mary to have qualities in common with a pagan “Earth Mother”. Manilva is known as Andalucia’s greenest village in summer, because of the abundance of verdant foliage in its terraced vineyards.
Then the grapes are ceremonially trodden – though don’t get the idea that this is just for fun: the grape-treaders may practise for up to a week to make sure that their rhythm of stamping is perfect. As they get tired from their highly aerobic grape-treading, the crowds will cheer on the treaders, encouraging them to continue with their labour. The first drink of this unfermented, foot-pressed grape juice is considered lucky, while as part of the vendimia festival the vineyard owner with the largest racimo (bunch) of grapes will often be awarded a special prize – and enjoy the higher status which this accolade brings.
Mosto, or very young unfermented wine (must, as in musty), is available from October, and is best drunk within a few months. The mosto of Umbrete, an even smaller town in the Aljarafe región west of Seville city, is a local speciality, and townsfolk come to the Salado bodega, a family-run winery which dates from the 19th century, to fill and refill their plastic containers with the grapey liquid.
Such wines as Rioja, cava and sherry are already widely appreciated, but now more Spanish wines are finally being recognised for their superb quality, and excellent value for money. The Spanish wine industry is on the up, so the vendimia is a big reason to celebrate los vinos españoles!