In the first week of March this city and region lets its hair down and celebrates the years’ bumper crop of grapes. Festivities begin with a ritual Fruit Blessing, followed by parades and carnival, street theatre and music. People throng to see a new Harvest Queen crowned and needless to say many a bottle is popped. Wine flows and sons are sung.
Past and present
In the old days, when people relied on the land for a living and depended on large animals to get around, harvest time was one of the most important times of the year. All around the world, every society marked its significance in some way. Mendoza was no different. The days before harvest are always worrisome. Especially in a region where a five-minute hailstorm of icy golf balls can destroy a year’s work. So people sighed with relief when the crop was finally in. Farm laborers celebrated with music and dance. A young girl was selected amongst the harvesters and crowned with a bunch of grapes. She became the Harvest Queen, a symbol if beauty optimism and thanksgiving.
From these somewhat informal, spontaneous beginnings La Vendimia was born. April 1913 was an important date in its evolution. A business congress ended with a parade of coaches, each representing a vineyard, trundling through the city streets. A parade was born.
It wasn’t until 1936 however when the first Harvest Queen was officially elected. Because of its working class roots, many families where reluctant to enter their daughters. This soon changed as the prizes grew richer and the title more prestigious. 1936 was also the first year and entrance fee was charged, justified by the fact that it was also the most spectacular. Decorated Gondolas floated on the park lake and fireworks entertained the masses.
The festivals growing popularity created problems. The increasing numbers of spectators made it difficult for the organizers to find a suitable venue. Somewhere was needed to showcase the performers and the crowing. It was a problem that would plague them for thirty years.
1939 saw the first Blessing of the Grapes. A statue of the Virgin Carrodilla presides over this ceremony, taking pride of place in the procession. Also in the same year a proper stage set was used in the Central Act and the organizers decided it was best to keep people in suspense and elect a Queen at the end rather than the beginning.
In 1940, they used a giant floating set on the park lake surrounded by glittering gondolas. Sounds lovely but all that water, electricity and alcohol must have made it a health and safety nightmare. As luck would have it a violent storm disrupted it entirely and the ceremony was forced indoors. The Queen was chosen in the Plaza hotel and the carnival cancelled until Monday. Finally, in 1963, a Greek style amphitheatre was opened in the park. At last the main show had a home and it celebrated with a colorful display of lights, sound and fireworks.
The festival was growing. What had begun as a traditional rural party had now become a glitzy and sophisticated spectacle, done with flair and professionalism. The Harvest Queen, originally a kind of homage to women’s work and sacrifice in the fields, has evolved into an ambassador for Mendoza, representing the virtues of the people and the beauty of the area. The festival itself has become a showcase for the city, the region and the nation.
Did you know?
→ Evita came in 1947 and gracefully refused to offer to be Queen.
→ The festival is a measure of The President’s popularity. When he enters the amphitheater he will be either clapped or jeered. Sometimes he might send some minions from Buenos Aires beforehand to test the water and prevent any possible embarrassment.
→ In January 1970 Mendoza suffered a terrible flood. People died and cars and homes were wrecked. Yet the show must go on and the Vendima went ahead with great success.
→ The judging panel was once a small elitist club of ambassadors and dignitaries. Now it’s a unwieldy mass of over 1000 representatives.
→ In the unlikely event of a draw, the Queen wins by lottery. It happened in 1947
Situated in the South Western corner of the Parque General San Martín, this natural amphitheater is the only one of its kind in the country. Its terraces hold 25.000 people, with more accommodated by numerous platforms in the surrounding hill. It has a grand central stage bordered by water and is perfect for the lavish set required for the festival-. Its creation began in 1940 as part of an ambitious public works programme but was delayed several times due to strong opposition and heavy criticism in some quarters. It was officially opened and used with great success for the Central Act of the Vendimia. It has been the principal venue ever since.
La vía blanca and the carousel.
Here we go; Mendoza’s very own kind of carnival, celebrating wine, women and Argentine history. There are two parades by both are very similar in content. The big difference really is that one; La Vía Blanca takes place at night and the other; The carousel kicks of the following morning. Both are essentially street parties that attract up to 20.000 spectators. They come to watch and cheer a colorful line of musicians and performers, horse drawn coaches and sumptuous floats. Each district queen is there, blowing kisses and regally waving to the corwds. Other cities and indeed countries are represented in some way. Posses of Gauchos gallop along in all their glory.
The Central Act
This is the finale, held in Teatro Griego Frank Romero Day (Parque San Martín). 25.000 paying guests show up to watch a grand spectacular of lights and sound. Hundreds of dancers, musicians, actors and performers display their talents on a massive stage. Then to cap it all (quite literally), a Harvest Queen is finally elected and she is crowned amongst much fanfare, hoopla and fireworks. Hit me with those laser beams. Then, as if that wasn’t enough, the whole show is repeated again the following night. So you have no excuse if you miss it.
What you need to produce such a show...
→ 3.000 square meters of scenery
→ 25.000 festival lights
→ 3.500 sheets of veneer
→ 2.500 square meters of wood
→ 4.000 costumes
→ 500 kilos of fireworks
and… → 1000 people running around shouting at each other
It’s all about wine! Let us show you where to go and what to do; what streets to dance on and what places to cavort in. All this plus the usual mountain of fantastic things to do and see in Mendoza. Bienvenidos a la Vendimia en Mendoza.
Mendoza Holidays Wine Tours has once again received an International ¨Best of Wine Tourism Award¨ (2010/2011/2012 & 2013) thanks to the exceptional and memorable wine tourism experience offered to clients. Great Wine Capitals Global Network. www.greatwinecapitals.com