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Peru has recently become a leading player in the South American wine scene, and vineyards can now be found all over the country, especially in southern Peru near the city of Ica, where some of the best pisco and wines are produced. Once a year, the country celebrates its wine and pisco-making traditions during La Vendimia, a festival dedicated to Peruvian grapes. If you want to experience the best the festival offers, head to Ica and stay at one of the many vineyards to enjoy all the fun! The Vendimia International Festival began in 1958 to celebrate the grape harvest. The festival is celebrated nationwide from humble beginnings, but the epicenter of wine production and the best place to celebrate is the Ica Vendimia.
During the first week of March, the region of Ica celebrates its grapes grown for wine and pisco. These fruits thrive in the area's sunny and dry environment and celebrate their culture. The Ica Vendimia is the perfect mixture of tradition and delicate flavors. Peruvians and tourists descend to Ica to visit the country's most important vineyards. They can see precisely how the juices are extracted from the grapes and watch the Peruvian process of wine- and pisco-making. Visitors will have the chance to witness traditional grape stomping, an activity reflective of the region's winemaking tradition.
Traditional Pisco Press
The celebration goes way beyond winemaking and is a celebration of everything Peruvian. As in every other city celebrating the tradition, you can appreciate different activities and plenty of food, music, and games. It is a great chance to experience everything Peru offers, all in one place. This is an excellent opportunity to sample Peru's delicious gastronomy, such as ceviche, anticuchos, and picarones, all accompanied by traditional Peruvian music. One of the main events of The Vendemia is the Queen of the Wine Festival, a beauty pageant where the winner gets to be the first person to stomp on the grapes. These celebrations that surround planting and harvesting have taken place since pre-Inca times. Over the years, these customs have survived, adapting to the many social changes the country experienced and transforming along the way.
The Queen of the Festival
All activities during the exciting harvest week revolve around the signature crop: the grape. Bunches are cut and placed in baskets before taking them to the designated press. It is here that the famous "stomping" takes place; both men and women make their way into the press and stomp on the grapes with their bare feet to the beat of Peruvian cajones. After all the hard work, what better way than to enjoy the final product? The Ruta de Los Lagares – or "wine press route" takes visitors on tour through the main wineries in the area, many of which continue to produce wine and pisco in the same traditional ways. Visitors make their way through the region and learn about the elaboration process. Each day, a different winery prepares a series of activities for visitors. At the end of all the events, everyone is invited to indulge in a series of tastings that showcase the flavors of the earth.
The final day of the Vendemia is centered around "the yunza", a lively tradition unique to Peru. Participants take turns trying to cut down a young tree decorated with balloons and gifts, one axe whack at a time. The axe and the wine are passed from person to person, to the rhythm of the music, until the tree falls. Upon its fall, participants rush to pick up the gifts, and as tradition has it, the person who struck the last blow is in charge of organizing the following year's yunza event.
The vineyards have long since disappeared from Surco in Lima as the city has expanded. While Peru's wine and pisco are primarily produced in the country's south, Surco once was Lima's top wine producer. During Surco's Vendimia, the neighborhood's Plaza de Armas is where the party gets going, with plenty of food, drinks, music, and of course, plenty of wine and pisco. In colonial and early republican times, part of what today is the district of Surco in Lima was a wine-growing area. Today there are a handful of local wineries and many small traditional wine bars and eateries around Surco's main square. To keep this part of Surco's history and tradition alive, the district celebrates its own Grape Harvest Festival, usually in the second half of March.
As in Ica, the festival starts with the Grand Parade of the Grape Harvest (Gran Corso de la Vendimia), introducing the wine queen candidates to the public; expect a delightful mix of folkloric dance and music groups, colorfully decorated floats sponsored by local businesses and a little "self-promotion" of the local municipality. In the evening, there are big fireworks displays also. During the actual 4-day celebration of the Vendimia in Surco, which takes place at and around Surco's main square, a wine queen is elected. The coming days are filled with many activities around wine, such as traditional grape stomping, wine, and Pisco tastings, presentations on the conventional way of wine and Pisco making and an exhibition of established wineries. Classic Peruvian dance shows and a great music program with concerts of national and international artists complete the spectacle.
If you are interested in the culture, wines, and history of this delicious drink, and its place in Peruvian history, then the Vendemia is a must-visit if you visit Peru in March. Ask us here for more information about this impressive Ica Vendemia!