The city of Mendoza is gearing up for its biggest party of the year, the National Grape Harvest Festival.
Fiesta de la Vendimia events begin in January and February, and culminate during the last week of February, when 40,000 visitors come to celebrate and enjoy the local nectar, awakening the normally sleepy northern city. Aside from an abundance of Malbec, the city-wide party features traditional cuisine, folkloric song and dance, and the main event — a beauty contest to select the ‘Queen of Vendimia.’
Wine connoisseurs from around the world and artists from all over South America descend on Mendoza during this time, creating a carnival-like atmosphere in the streets as the worlds of gauchos, international jet setters and Mendocinos (as locals are known) collide.
Activities take place province-wide in the months leading up to the main event with each of the 18 regions of Mendoza selecting a local contestant for the beauty pageant.
Origins of the Vendimia Festival
Celebration of the harvest in Mendoza has come a long way from its puritanical 17th century roots, when wine was mainly utilized for consecration.
Peasants would offer fruit to the deity of the Virgin of Carrodilla, the celestial patron saint of Mendoza’s vineyards. After the work was done they were finally able to rest and celebrate.
The more irreverent modern-day celebration goes back to 1936 and has evolved into one of the largest wine festivals in the world.
The grand finale starts on Friday night with a live show and the introduction of pageant contestants in the Greek-style Frank Romero Day amphitheater. On Saturday, beauty contestants ride along floats in a downtown parade and the local wineries give away free samples to spectators.
The flashy main event is on Saturday, March 7 and repeats for the next three days, when 25,000 fill the theater to see a Mendoza-cum-Las Vegas style performance and watch the crowning of the ‘Queen of Vendimia’ with a tiara made of grape leaves and vines.
The show is followed by a large fireworks display and live music. Those who didn’t secure tickets for the big night can watch it all on a big screen set up in downtown Mendoza’s Plaza Italia. It is also televised across the country.
When the Vendimia Festival is over the party is not — during the second week of March is the Gay Vendimia Festival, which started off as a campy parody but today draws visitors in its own right.