The Grape Stomp: A Spanish Wine Festival in Logrono Spain
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Everyone spiffies up and strolls around the plaza (paseo) with friends and relatives meeting up with more of the same. They stroll in and out of bars drinking and eating tapas (similar to our hors d'oeuvres, but Spanish style) until 10:30 or 11:00PM when they have dinner at home or at a restaurant until midnight after which they turn in for the night.
Since it is a festival, many people go out again for a stroll until about 2:00AM or even 4:00AM. How many? Try thousands of people. The scene is like Times Square at New Year's eve. Once you adapt to the six-hour time change and the lifestyle, you're ready to join the party.
For several days prior to the festival, the wine caves are open to visitors. The Spanish wine is produced in some unusual and interesting structures: a monastery, medieval villa, another grows organic grapes, and one winery is futuristic in style. The wineries are immense, some stretching for 250 acres as far as the horizon, glistening with plump, purple clusters of grapes weighing down the vines.
In the opening ceremony of the festival, a boy and girl in traditional costume are chosen to carry baskets of grapes. The horns blast and barefoot men stand in a barrel stomping the grapes to commemorate the first grape juice (Mosto), which is offered to the Virgin of Valvenera, Patron Saint of La Rioja.
The party then begins and the town bursts into activity like a bees' nest. At the Market Place (Plaza del Mercado), ten-foot tall characters from Spain's history, called Pasacalles, parade and dance through the streets. Bunches of balloons are so profuse that they swamp the vendors. The blare of a mariachi band, smartly uniformed in black costumes, and wearing sombreros plays Mexican music on one corner while a few yards away, a Peruvian band lightly plays their flutes.
The candy shops and gelato shops are open and little kids are having a ball. Here and there, a weird looking Mickey Mouse character or a well-worn Donald Duck greets the kids. A new generation of hippies sells their handicrafts on the street and people spill out of the tapas bars embracing each other.
The wine festival is almost as old as the grape itself. For centuries, horse-drawn carts rolled into town laden with the harvested grapes. It was around this time that drinks were served with saucers (tapas) over them to keep away the flies. Soon little snacks of cheese, olives, nuts and bits of meat were placed on the saucer to enjoy with the drinks. The practice has progressed to a whole creative gastronomy of hot and cold appetizers, costing from one to two euros.
A festival must have a bullfight; it is integral to the culture. High school and college boys join bullfight teams, similar to our football teams that compete against each other. Their objective is not to kill the bull, but to see which team can hook the most rings around the bull's horn. They use young bulls called encierros instead of full- grown bulls, but their horns are still dangerous. Since this is a festival, there are no teams at this game. Instead, anyone can go into the ring and tease the calf or young bull. When a calf is introduced to the ring, about fifty young men stand around the perimeter trying to gain the calf's attention. Most of the time, the young bull stands in the middle of the ring with a confused look on his face as the young men cajole it to chase them. When the calf decides to run after them, the boys run like hell to the six- foot guard rails and often leap right over it; others dive head first over the railing, landing comically with their legs sticking straight up. This was great fun to watch because the calf doesn't get hurt and the boys usually don't either. Even if the calf knocks a boy down, the calf seems to know it's a game and allows the boy to get away. Since the calf weighs 300-400 pounds, it is still a force to be respected.
When the real bullfight begins, it's not fun or games. The matadors imperiously move to center stage for applause and then stand on the side. The bull (toro de lidia) moves into the ring: He has never been in the ring before. He looks bewildered. Assistant matadors swirl their pink capes at the bull encouraging him to charge. Then the picadores trot out on their armor covered, blindfolded horses. The picadores hold very long spears with floppy feathers attached to the ends called banderillos. The bull charges the horse nearly knocking it over. This gives the picadore the opportunity to stab the bull with several banderillos. The picadore leaves a cylinder embedded in the bull so that the blood will gush out, weakening the bull. Now the star matador stands like a thin silhouette bent slightly backwards, in front of the bull waving his red cape urging the bull to charge. The crowd shouts "Ole" when the bull charges and the matador flicks his cape. The bull stops, dazed, it looks around at the crowd and its knees buckle. Standing sideways merely two feet in front of the wounded bull, the matador raises his sword parallel to the ground with his elbow up. Aiming for a spot between the shoulder blades, the matador skillfully delivers the final thrust and the bull falls over. The spectators burst into thunderous applause as the crowd springs to its feet and cheers. The bull's ear is cut off as a trophy and the bull is dragged out of the ring by a rope. There are six more killings that afternoon. I am told that the bulls live a princely life until the day they go to the ring.
Walking back to the hotel, I pass through the beautiful rose arbor in the park and around the fountain spraying jets of water. Flowers, all primped in their beds, draw attention to their happy colors and many pedestrians sit on park benches to enjoy the scenery. It is soon 8:30pm and time for the evening paseo.
It's a slow stroll, a very pleasant and carefree sort of stroll. According to the Spaniards, their mind set is to enjoy food, wine and good companions. Their pace of life is leisurely; their sense of time is nearly punctual.
We eat dinner early (10:00pm) at the new Riojaforum (conference center) and tour the temperature-controlled wine cellar. We discover that it is quite enjoyable to dine for hours with good friends, and we decide to continue this pastime back in the US. It's like being at a Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner every day.
It is our last night in Logrono and we are treated to a Flamenco show outside the conference center. Five dark-haired women stamp their feet in their form fitting, ankle-length dresses creating a rainbow of colors and ruffles as they twirl in unison. Then the fireworks explode in the sky: Umbrellas of sparkling colors shower down on us. With only a handful of people there and an unobstructed view of the night sky, our visit ends with a most spectacular display that echoes against the mountains like thunder.
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Award winning journalist, Karen Hamlin is a native New Englander who write about travel and the people she meets. published in the Springfield Union, The Sun, Travel World International, Experience Travel, and Senior Travel. Among Karen's professional interests are mature travel, cruises, beaches and cultural/historical destinations. Karen is a member of the North American Travel Journalists Association and the International Food and Travel Writers Association.