Grape harvesting is one of the few traditions that remains more or less unchanged due to its simplicity.
Although I still don’t have enough time to write regular blog posts, I thought I’d share some photo impressions from today’s grape harvest at a friend’s vineyard near Izola and tell you about another Slovenian tradition. As you may or may not know, Slovenia is a total wine country and we apparently have 14 official wine districts. Winemaking is a time honoured tradition and a huge part of our cultural heritage, so from that perspective I am sometimes a bit sad that I really don’t like wine – I can tolerate lighter, sour red wines and to date I have tried perhaps 3 wines that I have actually liked, not just stomached for the sake of a toast and the social occasion. Our national anthem literally comes from a poem called “A toast” – more on that here and we even boast the world’s oldest vine in Maribor. Simply called The Old Vine, it is about 400 years old and still produces grapes (and wine, obviously).
It is therefore no surprise that about every 7th Slovenian either owns a vineyard or has something to do with winemaking, which means that almost every step associated with wine production is a good excuse for a social event. Since there is no wine without grapes, grape harvest or trgatev is the first step in late August or mid September and it is both labour and a feast.
Grape picking is done manually and it is traditional to enlist friends and extended family to help out, along with some paid seasonal workers depending on the size of the vineyard. You’ll get a pair of work gloves, pruning shears and a bucket to toss the grapes in (typically an old plastic paint container or something like that) and then you are off to harvest the grapes row by row. There will be a group of harvesters with shears and a group picking up the filled crates of grapes with a tractor waggon and lots of more or less disorganised yelling, which was double in our case because my friend’s family is Slovenian-Italian and we were right on the border in the bilingual region.
Impressions from the grape harvest
This was my first grape harvesting experience, but as far as I am told there’s usually about half a day of work and half a day of eating, at least in the smaller, private vineyards. There are of course also larger vineyards where the grape picking goes on for days and they do entire harvest festivals with accompanying programme where you can also join in as a tourist. Since grape harvest is a social occasion, it starts early in the morning with coffee and preparation and nobody works alone in their vine row. Although it is back breaking work, it passes quite quickly through conversation if the weather is not too hot, but don’t forget to bring your sun block cream. I actually found it quite meditative and the vines are beautiful, hence all the photos from today.
You won’t find any people on my photos to protect their privacy, but afterwards we had a big feast with lots of (last years’) wine. The grapes were pressed into grape juice while my friend’s grandmother prepared all the food as a hearty, home cooked meal is a must with the grape harvest and we all had to roll ourselves into the cars on the way home. Grape harvesting is a wonderful communal event, so if you ever get the chance to attend one, in Slovenia or elsewhere, go for it. Otherwise you can always try some Slovenian wines – refošk or Refosco is one of the few that I actually like and Malvazija is famous among the white wines. 🙂 As for us we’ll have to wait until St. Martin’s Day in November, when the grape must (mošt) turns into wine and Slovenians traditionally eat roasted goose or duck with braised red cabbage and mlinci and toast the new wine vintage.