Why is the grape harvest such a magical tradition?
Fall is just around the corner and the vineyards are filled with excitement as they prepare for the most important time of the year: the annual grapes harvest.
Winemakers work hard all year long, cultivating the land, pampering the vines as if they were their own daughters, until September comes, and the long-awaited precious fruits are finally harvested.
In Alto Piemonte, we first collect the white-grapes, like “Erbaluce” and then “Nebbiolo“, “Vespolina“, “Uva Fragola” and “Croatina“. It’s a significant moment in our territory, during which winemakers often share their harvest with the locals.
A bit of history
The history of grape harvesting dates back to Roman times: it is believed that on 19th of August the so-called “Vinalia Rustica”, was celebrated. This festival, held in honor of Bacchus, marked the beginning of grape harvesting.
The grapes were hand-picked using knives-like tools, then poured into tanks, called “lacus vinaria”, where they were pressed.
Throughout the harvesting, daily activities were suspended and the whole family would gather to work exclusively in the vineyards.
This is the reason for the convivial and social atmosphere of this activity, bringing people together to celebrate the harvest and spend time with one another.
In rural society, the starting date of the harvest was defined by the person in charge of evaluating the ripeness of the grapes through continuous tastings.
At the time of harvesting, entire families moved from farm to farm, competing with one another to harvest first the assigned vines.
To support the vines, they used trees such as the elm, the “testucchio” (stem, stalk, twig, incrociato) and the highest grapes were collected using ladders and baskets with hooks.
Once collected, the grapes where poured into “bigonce” (an oval shaped, slightly flared, wooden recipient of approx. 50 liters, made of staves held together with wooden circles), then placed on carts pulled by oxen and finally transferred to the cellar.
Nowadays, with the introduction of mechanical tools which improve and facilitate grape harvesting, part of its festive and convivial value is lost, even if several wineries and villages try to preserve the customs and traditions of this territory.
Not only wine
In the past, grapes were not only used to make wine, but they also represented an important food resource.
One of the recipes that we can still find on our tables today is “Busarò”, the traditional peasant flatbread made of bread dough with strawberry grapes and sugar.
In the past, the unfermented grape juice was used to make a refreshing drink, and the fresh must was turned into “Sapa”: a sort of syrup obtained by slow cooking the must with nuts, figs or apples, then stored in bottles and used for multiple preparations.
Festivals and traditions
In Alto Piemonte, grape harvesting is still a tradition cherished in many villages and many wineries.
It is a joyful occasion to share the fruits that our land offers and the winemakers hard work.
“Festa del Vino di Gattinara”, one of the main festivals- in September, celebrated their 37th edition this year.
A time of great celebration through the village streets, with food and wine tastings, musical and cultural events, art and design exhibitions related to the wine-making business. In addition, local taverns offer typical dishes together with Gattinara DOCG and other wines from the areas surrounding Vercelli, Biella and Novara.
Thanks to this welcoming atmosphere, the “Festa del Vino” is one of the main events in the city of Gattinara and one of the most prestigious festivals related to the harvest in Piedmont, celebrating one of the great Italian red wines for over three days: the Gattinara D.O.C.G. Definitely not to be missed next year!
Another village worth a visit during this time of the year is Sizzano.
“La Festa di Sizzano”, takes place on 22nd September.
A day organized in every detail, offering the opportunity to walk through the vineyards, to learn about the cultivation techniques, the typical grapes and the systems used by the most experienced producers.
Furthermore, you can enjoy a charming meal in the vineyard with traditional Piedmontese dishes such as “polenta”, “tapulone” (don’t remember? We talked about it here) and typical local products, until you reach the square in Sizzano where the grapes are pressed.
The village of Ghemme, twinned with Sizzano, also celebrates this festival on the same day, organizing visits in various cellars, showing the vinification process and visiting the “Ricetto” (old village).
Our winemakers try to keep the tradition alive, to maintain the conviviality, and to share the passion for their work, by not only bringing excellent wines to our table but also by holding genuine festivals to enhance our Alto Piemonte region, which is too often underestimated.
The wineries are open all year round, the time of harvesting being certainly the most evocative, but the stories of the winemakers are no less because they always tell an important side of our territory.
– Until next time, With Love