Wine Harvest | What to Expect

Gregory McBeth

 

There is something magical about the start of harvest. Whether you are visiting wine country during those special months or work in the wine industry and actively participate, there is no denying the energy is contagious and invigorating. Traditionally, harvest begins with Champagne, commemorating the start of the season with a toast and blessing of the grapes. From there, the work begins. 

In the Northern Hemisphere harvest can start as early as August and can easily go into November. Quite the opposite if you are in the Southern Hemisphere, where harvest typically starts in March or April. Véraison is when grapes begin to ripen. The grape skins change in color and the grapes begin to swell and fill with water. Sugar levels rise as acid levels drop all while forming the flavors and tannins of the grape variety. The winemaker ultimately determines when conditions are ideal to pick the grapes and begin harvest. Preferably the harvest season should be dry and sunny.

If you plan to visit wine country during harvest, do so far in advance. Hotels fill up quickly, dinner reservations are almost always required and wine tastings most likely will be appointment only. It does take some time to plan out a weekend itinerary but well worth it if executed in an organized mode. Some helpful hints; don’t try to jam too many wine tastings into one day, I find 2-3 is ideal. Also, give yourself plenty of time in between tastings so you can eliminate calling the winery to tell them you are running late. Make sure to plan your meals for the day and drink plenty of water!

There is a bountiful amount of harvest activities you can participate in. Quite a few wineries allow visitors to experience crushing of the grapes, something I highly recommend! As messy as it can be, it’s a memory worth creating. Many wineries also have vineyard tours available, where you can tour the grounds, learn about their practices and take plenty of Instagram worthy photos. Another event gaining popularity this time of year are farm-to-table dinners. Some wineries and quite a few restaurants have their own gardens, giving them the opportunity to provide their guest with fresh ingredients perfect for the autumn season. Winemakers often play a role with these dinners, discussing the wine pairings and answering questions from the guests.

If you get really adventurous and are not afraid to get dirty, you can work a harvest. I have found there are plenty of wineries out there that would welcome a helping hand, some even offer paid internships. It’s not easy but you will walk away with a new appreciation and abundance of knowledge from the experience. Start by doing some research. What wine regions are you intrigued by? What wineries produce the variety’s you prefer? Once you have a few of those details confirmed, reach out to a few wineries and see if they are looking for any additional help during harvest. Working harvest is not a luxury job. You will get dirty; you will be exhausted and will have red stained hands but I can almost guarantee you will love every minute of it.

 If I had one word to describe harvest, I would choose charismatic. I often find it hard to explain in words. If you get the chance, experience it in person. You will be charmed and if you are lucky, you will catch the bug and come back year after year.