The story began centuries ago when family and friends would get together and arrange dates so that each could help in the harvest: the women would carry the wicker baskets on their heads, and the men would carry the wooden ladders that would help them reach all the bunches… And so, the traditional wine harvests were created to the sound of chirping birds, traditional musical, drums, and snacks. The harvest culminates on St. Martin’s Day, on November 11th, where chestnuts are eaten, and the new wine is savored.
Currently, they try to keep the memories of the northern regions alive, and September represents the commemoration of the year in the vineyards, wrapped in traditions that differ from region to region. Today we will explain some traditions of the Douro and Porto, and Vinho Verde regions so that you don’t miss the smallest details about this event.
The harvest represents one of the most festive and traditional seasons in Portugal and covers all the activities that take place between the picking of the grapes and the production of wine. “August ripe, September harvest”, many are the popular sayings that set the wine harvest motto. September is the month of harvest, the month in which the grapes have reached the necessary sugars and acids for production, and as tradition dictates it is time to manually pick the bunches.
The grapes are picked by hand or with the help of scissors, following the tradition, the treading of the grapes can still be done in the most rustic way, although there are now systems that do this process. This is followed by 4 hours of synchronization between the participants, the grapes are deposited in a grape processor and the grapes are de-stemmed and crushed, which results in the must. After a long fermentation process, the wine is stored in cement, stainless steel, or wood tanks until ready to be consumed.
In the past, wine harvest was a celebration and a reason to get together with family and friends, everyone would gather to the sound of traditional music and abundant tables, wearing the typical costumes of the time. At dusk, the men, and children, wearing shorts or rolled-up pants, would tread the grapes to the rhythm of the music. Although some of the traditions of the past have been lost, the grape harvest combines gatherings with work and culture and is essential to the production of the national wine.
The grape harvest is the culmination of a year of work, the roads fill up with vans and people’s houses, ready to take the grapes to the mills. This is a tradition that has been modernized in some aspects, however, in many others, it remains traditional and loyal to the Douro and Minho roots.
One by one, the bunches are picked out and cut. Once the baskets are filled, the workers carry them to a truck, and then take them to a room where the spoiled grapes are checked and discarded. Afterwards comes the famous treading of the grapes in the presses, with the rhythmic march of the workers who, amidst songs and laughter, tread the grapes and crush them to separate the pulp from the skin. This work of treading the grapes, or “cutting the grapes”, lasts two days, and is one of the most important processes, responsible for the color and tannins of the wine.
Harvest, wine with tremendous quality, and regional traditions are three sumptuous ingredients in these areas, that are rich in wine tourism experiences. Here, the harvest is a mirror of its people: families get together, neighbors are invited, and after the hard work of collecting the grapes and their initial process, there is the most awaited moment: the tasting of the must.
The entire harvest procedure is accompanied by singing groups, by the famous guitar and the renowned accordion. Many are the wineries that allow tourists to participate in the harvest, offering more knowledge about this cultural tradition.
Among the characteristic smell of wine and of the grape harvest, in September, the Vindouro is celebrated in S. João da Pesqueira. Here, the traditional wine and gastronomic flavors of the region are combined with the constitution of the first demarcated region of the world by Marquês de Pombal in 1761.
Performances by brilliant artists, a Pombaline parade and market, as well as a wide range of activities designed for wine and gastronomy lovers, are some of the highlights that mark this annual festivity.
“Vindouro is a meeting point for producers, restaurant and hotel business, consumers, and individuals. The event’s connection to the Pombaline era makes perfect sense, both because it was during this historical period that the Douro Demarcated Region was established, giving it its own identity and a framework that the entire Region intends to maintain and strengthen. The event’s connection to this historical period adds value to Vindouro” explained Dr. Manuel Cordeiro, Mayor of São João da Pesqueira.
Experience and embark on this unique and timeless adventure that is this celebration of the region’s wine and find out what makes it a talking point. Be a part of the magic and taste our nectar of the gods.
Text by Wine Tourism in Portugal
Photos by order: Quinta da Pacheca; João Portugal Ramos; Vindouro, S. João da Pesqueira