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Saturday, August 21, 2010

Visiting during the wine grape harvest

It's definitely the most fun time to be in the vineyards!

When

It's up to Mother Nature, but figure about September through October is when the picking and crushing is happening.  Late Sept. into early Oct. is the peak.   Note the 2010 harvest is running late in California coastal areas this year.   I don't believe much will be happening until late September, but it's a little early to know for sure.

You can check with a winery a couple days in advance of your visit to see if they expect to be crushing, but there's never a guarantee for an exact date let alone an exact time.

What

You can often see grapes being picked as you drive around the vineyards though most picking is done in early morning during the cooler weather.   You'll see trucks loaded with grapes going up and down the roads.   You can smell the fermentation.

The wine grape processing happens daily at the various winery operations.  They work when the grapes are ready so it could be seven days a week dawn to into the night or they may have several days lull usually because of the weather.

The grapes typically get dumped in the crusher in an outdoor area near the stainless steel tanks so it's easy to see this activity at many wineries. 

If you happen to hit the first day a winery is bringing in grapes they often have the traditional toast to the first grapes.

A few wineries will offer special events from formal harvest parties to letting you help pick grapes.  There are several festivals during this time celebrating the harvest.
Grape stomp competion at the
Sonoma County Harvest Fair

Image from harvestfair.org
Where

Any winery with a visitor center and the processing operation at the same site may be an opportunity to view the crush.   It's best to call around to see what's available.

One I know of is Clos Pegase in Calistoga.  They have daily free tours that include the crush pad and winery operations.  Expect noise and wet floors!   But even at wineries without tours you can often walk by the crush pad.  

Cautions

The folks working the crush are very busy and probably very tired. Be careful about not getting too close to the activity without asking first.

If you want to visit small wineries by appointment with the owner and/or winemaker this can be a bad time as most of their waking hours may be taken up with the crush.   If a winery has a separate hospitality staff this isn't a problem.

Don't expect to have the wineries to yourself during the "off-season."  Weekends in Napa Valley during the crush are very busy as many others want to see it.   As always, other areas are less crowded than Napa.   Visit Sonoma County!