During the months of March and April, Chileans commemorate the grape harvest (known as vendimia in Spanish) with fiestas de la vendimia. These weekend-long fêtes take place annually in many of the country’s wine-producing areas, but the largest such event is in the small city of Curicó, located 124 miles/200 kms south of Santiago. The festival highlights Chilean food, cultural traditions, and, of course, wine.
Curicó Valley, a Major Wine-Producing Area in Chile
One of Chile’s 9 wine-producing zones, the Curicó Valley is known for its yield of high-quality Sauvignon Blanc grapes. The eastern side of the valley is bounded by the Andes Mountains, and falling cold air currents create the ideal conditions for turning out white wines with crisp freshness and acidity. The area boasts 16 wineries and has been producing wine since 1851.
Sampling the Wines of Curicó Valley
The festival takes place the third week of March each year in Curicó’s Plaza de Armas, an attractive park in the center of town, bordered by 60 enormous palm trees. Local vineyards set up stands around the plaza to offer tastings and a chance to chat with a representative. Some well-known wineries include Miguel Torres, Aresti, and Valdivieso.
After buying a wine glass for around two dollars, a “taste” (i.e., full glass) from one of the stands cost less than one dollar. Wines on offer include a wide range of whites (e.g., Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Voignier, Riesling), reds (e.g., Carmenere, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Malbec) and sparkling wines.
Chilean Traditions: Cowboys, Folk Music and Dancing
The first day of the festival features a parade of huasos (Chilean cowboys on horseback) down the main street and into the park. Huasos are a regular sight throughout Chile, where cattle and sheep ranching remain a strong part of the economy. Cowboys are an impressive sight with their colorful woolen ponchos, wide-brimmed hats (sombreros) and shiny silver spurs on black boots.
Adjoining the plaza where the wine festival takes place, a stage hosts bands playing Chilean folk music throughout the day. One of Chile’s most traditional types of music features a group of men strumming guitars and reciting payas, clever limerick-like jokes that poke fun at politics, friendship and the ever-annoying mother-in-law.
Other music ensembles play accordions and guitars to accompany the spirited national dance, the cueca, which is performed in pairs of huasos and women wearing colorful peasant dresses.
A Taste of Chilean Cuisine
Where there is good wine, there is always good food. Amidst the wine stands are plenty of stalls selling simple but delicious local cuisine. It’s worth waiting in line for anticuchos, wooden skewers threaded with pieces of beef, chicken, pork and sausage and cooked over a wood-fired grill. Choripans, grilled spicy sausages served in rolls, are tasty too. Be sure to try empanadas, baked turnovers filled with seasoned meat, cheese or a mix of native shellfish.
For dessert, sample a super-sweet torta Curicó, a kind of cookie sandwich filled with a creamy caramel spread.
Wine Festival’s Nighttime Entertainment
By late afternoon, the crowd at Curicó’s wine festival thins as people head home to nap in preparation for the real party, an all-night revelry complete with live meringue and salsas bands, heaps of great food and a seemingly endless flow of wine.
The lively spirit of Chile is infectious, and spending a couple of days with the locals provides an unforgettable chance to experience the culture and traditions of this country.