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The grape harvest: an important, busy and fun tradition

Bunches of grapes hanging in the autumn sunshine, pickers sharing jokes, the taste of freshly pressed grape juice, dinner together after work; the grape harvest is an unforgettable experience with family and friends. 

The harvest that the general public know about nowadays is more to do with quality gastronomic and cultural events, but it is a living tradition for Hungarians, as grapes have been grown in the Carpathian Basin for centuries. In the Great Plains, the grape harvest used to start on Mihály Day (29 September) and in Transdanubia on Terézia Day (15 October). In some places they rang bells or fired cannons to signal that work should start. 

No judging, no fighting

In the 16-17th centuries even the soldiers serving in faraway lands were allowed home, legislative work was suspended, and relatives, friends and acquaintances in far-flung parts of Hungary visited the wine regions to help with the work, and, when they were done, to celebrate the harvest together. The elegant harvest ball only started to be held later, in the 18th-19th centuries, when the end of the work was celebrated with dinner and an evening dance party. Some cities held the superstition that girls would stay single forever if they did not join the harvest party. 

The most playful holiday

According to tradition, work began at dawn with singing. Women picked the grapes and men collected them in baskets, and then the fruit was processed by grinding, soaking, treading and pressing. Meanwhile, some of the women would already be making dinner in the village: in addition to the essential savoury scones, they made harvest dishes of meat soup, and beef or mutton stew in a pot, as well as Székely cabbage and fried donuts, and they pressed fresh grape juice. 


At the end of the day, a song signalled that all the grapes had been picked and a cart could come to take the workers back to the village. Then they celebrated the landowner, sometimes with a grape crown decorated with ribbons, and at dusk the ball, with lots of games, started. In one of these games bunches of grapes were hung up, with some of the men playing guards looking after the grapes, with the rest of them playing the role of thieves. The losers were judged by a court and they had to pay funny penalties to the delight of the viewers. In some places, they also organised parades. The evening procession was attended by the wine king, who was responsible for the entertainment, and the figure of the Roman Bacchus, the god of wine and delight, who was dressed in red.

Let’s start the harvest trip

Tokaj-Hegyalja is Hungary's only world heritage wine region. It’s such an important place for the nation that Ferenc Kölcsey gave thanks in the National Anthem for the grapes grown here, from which a divine nectar, the Tokaj wine, is made. Many local tales talk about the fairies living in the area. They are supposed to be responsible for the special taste of the Tokaj wine.


Fine wines, famous wineries, great stories of winemakers, superb hiking trails and restaurants with beautiful views make it worth setting out and exploring Hungary's various wine regions during the harvest season.