Harvest is the most thrilling time to visit wine country, and you don't have to be a winemaker to be part of the buzz.
From Napa to New York, anyone can help winery crews in the vineyard or the winery, from picking and sorting grapes to blending and tasting the wines as they go into barrel.
Those who prefer partying to hard labor can celebrate the new wines with formal dinners, live music, tastings and much more, in Canada's Okanagan Valley, Washington's Columbia Valley, Oregon's Willamette Valley, New York's Finger Lakes, California's Paso Robles area and beyond.
Winery Work: Get Your Feet Dirty
Napa, Calif.If you've ever dreamed of making sparkling wine, here's your chance. At Schramsberg's "Camp Schramsberg," you'll harvest grapes with winemakers Hugh Davies and Craig Roemer at sunrise before heading indoors to learn how grapes are pressed, alcohol levels are measured and fermentation works. The next day, a series of tastings help demonstrate the importance of the blending and aging processes in producing sparkling wine. You'll disgorge a bottle that has already been aged, add the final dosage and learn how to cork, label and seal it.
Beyond the hard labor, there's food-and-wine pairing sessions at the Culinary Institute of America and tours of the winery's 19th-century caves. The 2007 fall camp is sold out, but space is available for next autumn (Sept. 7-9, 2008) and for the spring camp focusing on blending (March 9-11, 2008). Rates are $995 per person, including some meals.
Sonoma, Calif.For an intensive tutorial in winemaking, head to one of Sonoma County's most opulent wineries, Ferrari-Carano. Vineyard director Steve Domenichelli will teach you how to pick, sort and taste grapes, followed by lessons on the punch-down process and inoculating tanks with yeast. You'll also taste juice during each stage of the process, noting how it evolves into wine.
Downtime brings a multicourse lunch with wine and dinner with Ferrari-Carano's winemakers, Aaron Piotter and Sarah Quider, at John Ash & Co. Offered Sept. 21-23, 2007, and Sept. 12-14, 2008. Rates are $1,250 per couple, including a two-night stay at Vintners Inn; ask for the Harvest Wine Country Weekend package.
Long Island, N.Y. The 175-acre Wolffer Estate mixes work and play at its family-friendly harvest celebration (Oct. 7). If you aren't afraid to get your hands dirty, stomp and pick grapes in the vineyard with winemaker Roman Roth and vineyard manager Richard Piscano, and tackle the barrel-rolling contest. Or kick back and listen to live music by the local Jim Turner Band while tasting current releases, older vintages and samples of the fermenting 2007 vintage (if harvest has begun).
Lunchtime brings a Tuscan-style spread (think grilled vegetables, meats and cheeses) and a kid's barbecue. At day's end, a Harvest Queen will be chosen based on her wine smarts and grape-stomping technique. Admission is $65 for adults (ages 12 and older) and $15 for children under 12; 11:30 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Celebrations: Put on Your Dancing Shoes
Columbia Valley, Washington
The fertile Columbia Valley is one of Washington's largest winegrowing areas, and more than a dozen wineries rejoice in the fall bounty with unique events during the annual Catch the Crush weekend (Sept. 28-30). Expect grape stomping and live jazz at Oakwood, a barbecue, tastings and live music at Terra Blanca and more. Other participants include Columbia Crest, Preston Premium Wines, Goose Ridge and Kiona. Fees vary by event; purchase a VIP ticket ($20 each) for discounts to multiple activities.
Niagara Peninsula, Ontario
What started as a tiny street parade 56 years ago has evolved into a 10-day harvest bash drawing around 60,000 revelers each year. More than 100 events will take place at this year's Niagara Wine Festival (Sept. 21-30), including winery tours, wine tastings, seminars, and arts and crafts shows. For local culture, check out the Annual PenCentre Grande Parade featuring floats, steel drum and marching bands and dancers in downtown St. Catharine's (Sept. 29).
To indulge in local food and wine at more than 30 venues along the Niagara Wine Route, order the Chrysler Discovery Pass ($30); participating wineries include Jackson-Triggs, Inniskillin, Magnotta and Pillitteri. Fees, hours and locations vary by event.
Paso Robles, California
From Oct. 19 to 21, the emerging wine region of Paso Robles, in the coastal mountain range of central California, unveils the Harvest Wine Tour. More than 90 area wineries will offer unique events ranging from cooking demonstrations and dinners to grape stomping and wine tastings.
Don't miss Tablas Creek, where you can tour the winery's grapevine nursery to learn how grape clones are propagated, the grafting process is done and taste 2006 Syrah, Grenache and Mourvedrefrom the barrel. Justin, another must-visit winery, will host a multicourse dinner with wine pairing, a golf tournament and a seminar on fermenting wine in various types of oak. Advance reservations may be required, depending on the event; fees, locations and hours vary.
Finger Lakes, N.Y.
With its modern, Greek Revival-style winery overlooking vine-dotted slopes and Seneca Lake, Lamoreaux Landing Wine Cellars is one of the most beautiful places to taste wine in the region. On Nov. 3, the winery will host a sparkling wine and hors d'oeuvresreception in its barrel room, followed by a multicourse dinner paired with wine.
Expect sliced duck breast over black pepper-and-parmesan risotto with dried cherry-and-sage demi glace with 2005 Cabernet Franc; frisee, endive and shaved Brussels sprout salad with toasted pecans and a white wine-mustard vinaigrette with 2006 Gewurztraminer, poached pear Napolean with Riesling ice wine and more. Dinner is $96.12, including tax, per person; reservations required.
Willamette Valley, Ore.
Every year more than a thousand visitors come to Willamette Valley Vineyards'Oregon Grape Stomp Championship & Harvest Celebration. Around five tons of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay grapes are squished during the event (the juice and skins go to the compost, not the 2007 vintage). The object is to press the most juice in two minutes, and winners in each heat compete in a "stomp off" at the end of the day.
The top scorers from Saturday and Sunday go toe to toe for the chance to compete in the World Grape Stomp Championship in Santa Rosa, Calif., in October, on the winery's dime. There's also a barbecue, live rock music and tastings of current releases. The event takes place Sept. 22-23, from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.; make reservations in advance. Admission is $5.
Over a quarter of a million visitors are expected to arrive in the town of Grapevine, sandwiched between Dallas and Fort Worth, for the annual GrapeFest(Sept. 13-16). Expect wine tastings, a grape stomp, black-tie gala dinner, a live auction, craft show, carnival and music. Beyond wines from the Lone Star State, you can taste grapes from France, Italy, Australia, Spain and Germany.
Think you've got what it takes to be a critic? Take part in the People's Choice Tasting Classic, where you can judge 130 different Texas wines from 37 wineries. For a taste of local cuisine, check out the food-and-wine pairing sessions and cooking demonstrations offered all weekend. Fees, locations and hours vary.
For the full article with more listings, as well as recommendations on where to stay and dine, check out WineSpectator.com.