There is a marked change in the traffic from August to mid-September, as local residents reclaim the roads towards the end of another busy tourist season. Italian caravans, German Mercedes and expensive SUVs from Central Europe are much less visible than the Renault 4s, Golf 1s and Zastavas which meander slowly to the fields and park up at the roadside. For September is the wine harvest time on Hvar, as important to the island’s culture and identity as tourism is to its economy.
The Wine Harvest on Hvar
Wine has been a mainstay of island life since vines were introduced by the Ancient Greeks more than 2000 years ago, and the island’s wines are undergoing a resurgence after the devastating attack of phylloxera in the early 20th Century. Farming practices are similar to those first introduced and nowhere is this more apparent than on the Stari Grad Plain, an 80-hectare agricultural colony introduced by the Greeks and still thriving today.
While there are cooperatives and a handful of local producers with international reputations, such as Zlatan Penkovic and Andro Tomic, the majority of wine produced is by individual families on private plots. The picked grapes are noisily transported in ageing motorised trailers through the small streets of the island’s towns and villages, where they are crushed in the ground floor ‘wineries’ in private houses, the smell of the freshly crushed grapes pervading through the streets.
A day’s grape picking is a lot of fun, a chance to mix with the local population and, particularly if the vines are on the south of the island, a chance to enjoy the spectacular views of vineyards sloping down to the Adriatic.
How to Find a Grape-Picking Opportunity
It is easy to find a grape-picking party to join for a fun day. There is no payment, but help is usually rewarded by a slap-up meal with wine prepared in the fields. With the main season over, the island relaxes and waiters in cafes have more time. Simply ask where you might find a grape-picking contact, and one will appear!
Grape-Picking at a Dalmatian Pace
This being Dalmatia, things happen at their own pace, as this correspondent learned in his first season. The early reporting time of 7am at the local cafe was taken as a sign of a long day ahead, but as the fourth round of bevanda (wine and still water, a popular beverage) was brought to the table at 9am, the realisation that rural Hvar is indeed far from the Western rat-race was beginning to take root. Finally underway at 10am, four hours of leisurely picking high above the Adriatic, was followed by a hearty and extended lunch of grilled fish, vegetables and more than a glass or two of the local red.
As a break from days at the beach, a day’s grape picking is a rewarding experience, a chance to experience a little of local life, foster local friendships and sample some of the decent home-made wines in a picturesque setting.