Every year since 1926, Impruneta, a small town in the heart of the Chianti area of Tuscany, has it’s annual “Festa dell’Uva” or “Grape Festival” which I can only think to compare to the opening ceremonies of the Olympics.
Before our trip, I poked around online to find out about any events that would be going on during our visit and found a random site that listed the festival, which from the looks of it seemed like just a fun thing to do on a Sunday. I envisioned something like an Italian farmer’s market, with perhaps a heavy focus on grapes. Boy was I in for a surprise…
As we followed a rural side road off of already rural SR 222, we noticed that the sides of the narrow back country twisty road were starting to fill with parked cars. There were no signs for any event, or any indication of what was up ahead.
After we found parking, scaled a grassy hill and took a foot path into town, we hopped a fence and found ourselves smack dab in the middle of the event.
Huge floats pulled by tractors were being towed into town with music blasting from speakers mounted on the fountain in the town square. Dancers in thematic costumes performed to pop tunes, played their parts in carefully choreographed skits and routines, and ushered in even more floats.
Three floats rounded Buondelmonti Square to the cheers of the crowds, confetti exploded from the tops of the floats, fireworks went into the air, people on stilts in costume towered over jugglers with fire and it just went on and on; the whole event was just unreal.
Between songs and at the introduction of songs, which were like the theme songs you hear for the Olympics’ opening ceremonies, an announcer in a deep voice would announce what was going on, introduce the theme and the group, all (again) in a very Olympic Ceremony way.
After the three floats parked on the perimeter of the square, the dancers and players would do their thing in front of a panel of judges before departing with the floats in tow. One of the floats, for example, included a hidden 7 story tall bottle of Chianti that raised up on pneumatics. Shirtless guys in green overalls and construction hats did a routine as the bottle raised, and then dozens of girl dancers with purple umbrellas paraded around and danced to a Grappa song, moved onto get under purple netting and then open up their purple umbrellas one at a time to represent the growing of the grapes and the harvesting of the grapes.
We noticed that between the buildings of the four main streets leading into the town center were banners hanging for the four competing groups, one from each area. We later learned that each quarter of the city competes each year and that’s why there were four costumed groups with their own gigantic floats – all decked out with grapes like you’ve never seen – parading in and putting on an incredible show.
As each float pulled away, bunches of the biggest, plumpest, juiciest grapes I’d ever seen would be plucked from the sides of the floats and thrown into the crowd.
At the conclusion of the fanfare, everyone dispersed from the bleachers, buildings and hills around the square for fresh grape cake, wine, olive oil, meat and more from tents around the outside of the square while they waited for the judges to announce this years winning quarter.
In the end, the winners for 2010 (The four competing “Rioni” are S. Antonio, Le Fornaci, Le Sante Marie, and il Pallò) were announced. This year there was a winning tie between Sante Marie and Pallò!
We finished off the evening as the rain started by enjoying a most delicious meal at the roof top restaurant, Bella Vista. The music continued down in the square, despite the rain, and long after the announcement of the winning Rioni, locals hung around with umbrellas enjoying the end of the 84th annual Grape Festival.
If you’re planning a future fall trip to Tuscany, the festival takes place on the last Sunday of September and is well worth making a part of your trip!
Here are some more photos. Click for a bigger version with more info.