By Marie Naudascher, Contributing Reporter
CAXIAS DO SUL, BRAZIL – Every two years, the city of Caxias do Sul, 120 km south from Porto Alegre, in the state of Rio Grande do Sul, prepares itself for the Festa da Uva (Grape Festival). This year, from February 16th to March 4th, one million people are expected to be involved in the event, that happens to overlap with Carnival.
This year will commemorate the Ano da Itália (Year of Italy) in Brazil, a symbolic milestone on lands where a lot of Italian farmers settled in the end of the nineteenth century.
The local wine and grape producers welcome the tourists to experiment their products and get to know their ancestral traditions, in the Parque de Eventos (Park of Events) as well as in all the vineyards of the region.
“We are very proud to spread our knowledge and culture among both Brazilians and foreigners on our beautiful lands,” says Gelson Palavro, president of the Festa da Uva (Grape Festival).
Traditionally, to embody this Italian heritage throughout the event, a Grape Festival Queen and two Princesses are elected. Roberta Veber Toscan, Queen of the Festa da Uva 2012 described; “This event is the most popular and exciting of the region, we have a lot to share. It is a great source of pride for me to represent the glamor, the wine culture and the farmers of Caxias do Sul.”
During the Festival, not only will the visitors enjoy the local grape juices and wine, but also they will be try their hands at the ancestral farmer’s games, such as cartwheel races, cheese lobbing and churning spaghetti. “All these games used to be part of the Italian migrants [recreation],” recalls Greice Tedesco, from the local sport committee for the event.
Visitors interested in the wine region can also visit the Château Lacave (Lacava castle), a sixth century style medieval structure, but also the Casa de Pedra (House of Stone), a nineteenth century style house which was turned into a museum.
The Festa da Uva has always invited all the presidents of Brazil, and this year Dilma Rousseff will be at the opening ceremony.
Historically, the town of Caxias do Sul became more prosperous in 1910, when the first train made the connection with the capital of the state, Porto Alegre, and thus allowed to spread its wines and cheeses out of the city.
Initially meant to gather people together who used to work throughout the remote region in order to celebrate the grape harvest, the festival soon became an important cultural event in the region.
Today Brazil is the fifth largest producer of wines in the southern hemisphere, behind Argentina, Australia, South Africa and Chile. Although average wine consumption in Brazil is low – less than two liters per capita – Brazil’s middle class is on the rise which attributes to the rise of the wine market.
According to a survey by the Brazilian Wine Institute Ibravin (Instituto Brasileiro do Vinho), in 2010 12.5 million liters of sparkling wine was sold, compared to 11.1 million gallons placed in 2009.
The best way to travel to Caxias do Sul is a 2.5 hours flight from Rio, and as the festival is very popular, it is recommended to book accommodation in advance. Entrance tickets for the festival at the entrance costs R$7 from Monday to Thursday, R$10 on Friday and during the weekend, and R$3.50 for students.