11 Crushworthy Fall Harvest Experiences From Sonoma to Slovenia


5 minute Read

11 Crushworthy Fall Harvest Experiences From Sonoma to Slovenia

Illustration By Danielle Grinberg

Fall harvest is a busy time in the vineyard, as winemakers rush to get the fruit off the vine at just the right moment, when the grapes are at optimal ripeness and before wet weather arrives. But nowadays, more wineries are letting guests get in on the action with hands-on experiences like grape picking and stomping — giving them a real taste of the age-old traditions and effort that go into the process. Several festivals throughout the fall also celebrate the bounty of the harvest, as well as the hard work that goes into it.

Here, 11 fall harvest events worthy of a visit, whether you’re a newbie or hardcore oenophile. You just might leave with purple feet or raw fingers — but, most certainly, a newfound appreciation for what’s in your glass.

Sip and Stroll Through California’s Most Famous Vineyard

In wine circles, the name To Kalon (pronounced “TOE-kah-lon”) evokes reverence. Tucked into a pocket not far from Highway 29 near Oakville, it’s the most famous vineyard in Napa — and, arguably, California — whose fruit produces some of the most coveted and highest-rated wines in the country. Amici Cellars recently launched a new Grape to Glass harvest experience that invites you to stroll through these hallowed vines with a glass of Amici’s seriously killer Beckstoffer To Kalon Cabernet Sauvignon in hand. (You’ll also visit another legendary vineyard with an equally memorable name: Missouri Hopper.) The half-day experience wraps up with lunch and wine at Amici’s tasting room, a sublime spot just 10 minutes from downtown Calistoga.

Bundle Up for the Ice Wine Harvest in Pennsylvania

Every year in mid-December, winemakers at Mazza Wines in the Lake Erie wine region of Pennsylvania keep a close eye on overnight temperatures, looking for forecasts below 17 degrees. This marks the point at which the grapes and, more precisely, their sugars are frozen to the precise point to be harvested for ice wine. Since 1984, when Mazza Wines produced the state’s first true ice wine, winemakers have been joined by a couple dozen hardy volunteers who bundle up and help them pick the frigid bunches off the vines — a whopping eight to 10 tons every season. As a reward, volunteers are given a bottle of ice wine, and ample bragging rights.

Harvest Grapes by Moonlight in Chile

Those looking for a South American splurge won’t be disappointed by a three-day, hands-on immersion in the harvest at VIK Vineyard, located in Chile’s stunning Millahue Valley. By day, guests can choose from horseback riding, hiking the vineyard, and in-depth tastings, but the real fun starts when the sun sets. Guests can join the VIK team to pluck grapes from the vine by moonlight, and taste the newly pressed juice in the early stages of maceration. For the perfect souvenir, add an imperial bottle of wine from the vintage year in which you participated, which will be delivered upon release about four years later.

VIK Vineyard in Chile invites guests to pluck grapes from the vine by moonlight, and taste the newly pressed juice in the early stages of maceration.

Stomp and Sip in St. Helena

There’s a lot to, ahem, crush on at the Harvest Package offered at the ritzy, 78-room Harvest Inn in St. Helena, Calif. In partnership with local winery Grgich Hills, you’ll kick off your shoes and stomp a red varietal — which one it is depends on what’s being harvested at the time, as the stomping grapes are those that didn’t make the cut for wine — just like winemaker Mike Grgich did growing up in Croatia. You’ll also taste three varietals of your choosing, and you’ll go home with some swag, like a commemorative T-shirt with your stained footprints and a bottle of Napa vino.

Help Put Berries Into Barrel in Idaho

Idaho may be best known for its potatoes, but its grapes are gaining ground. The state’s wine industry has grown from 11 wineries in 2002 to more than 50 across three AVAs in 2018. Get an inside look at the harvest action with a series of harvest events at Telaya, where you’ll roll your sleeves up alongside winemakers (possibly even the husband-and-wife team Earl and Carrie Sullivan, Telaya’s owners and winemakers) to help haul and barrel grapes, learning more about the winemaking process along the way. You’ll be rewarded for your efforts with a hearty dinner — complete with wine, of course.

Celebrate Harvest SoCal-Style in Santa Barbara

In October, Santa Barbara wine country is hopping with the Celebration of Harvest Weekend. There are events happening throughout the region, from dinners with master sommeliers and winemakers, to live music, to, of course, grape stomping. A highlight this year is the Solvang Grape Stomp, held in the quaint town of “Sideways” fame: a street festival in downtown complete with a traditional communal crush.

Cycle Through the Harvest Season in Italy and Slovenia

For a convenient way to burn off those calories you consume in the tasting room, hop in the saddle for a bike tour through wine country. Visit during the harvest season and you’ll get a unique perspective (as well as props from bike-loving locals). Tourissimo’s September cycling tour from Friuli to Slovenia lets guests witness the beginning of the grape harvest and winemaking process, with the chance to interact with local wine producers across five wine-growing regions: Collio and Colli Orientali del Friuli in Friuli, and Goriska Brda, Kras, and Vipavska Dolina in Slovenia. Daily mileage runs between 15 and 40 miles, plenty  to help offset your tastings and wine dinners along the way.

Lend a Hand to a Pinot Noir Vintage in Sonoma

Serious Pinot fans won’t want to miss the chance to have a literal hand in the creation of Meadowcroft Wine’s Cornerstone Pinot Noir. Join owner and winemaker Tom Meadowcroft to harvest the notoriously fickle grapes before they head into production. Guests should wear comfortable clothes and sturdy shoes; pruning shears and other gear will be provided, as well as a post-picking breakfast. While you’re there, stop into Meadowcroft’s spectacular tasting room, which is part of Cornerstone Sonoma, a beautiful retail and event space that also houses the test gardens of Sunset magazine.

Experience a South American Harvest in Mendoza

In South American wine regions, the harvest season happens in the spring. (Advance planners, start your booking engines.) One worthy spot is the Malbec mecca of Mendoza, Argentina, where harvest celebration is a city-wide affair. At Entre Cielos Luxury Wine Hotel + Spa, a 16-room boutique hotel with its own eight-acre vineyard, guests can jump right into the action by crushing the grapes. After the work is done, there are also tastings galore, as well as Argentine-style picnics with flowing Malbec and sizzling meat on the traditional parrilla. Afterward, wind down in Latin America’s first authentic six-stage circuit hamam spa, which offers a variety of vinotherapy treatments.

Stomp and Taste Grapes Galore in Washington

There’s perhaps no better time to visit Washington’s sublime Lake Chelan Wine Valley than October, with brilliant fall foliage and harvest excitement in the air. The annual Crush Festival celebrates the spirit of the season, as many of the area’s 30-plus wineries open their barrel room doors to guests, who are invited to taste, stomp, and dance as they watch the grapes get pressed. Chat with winemakers and cellarmasters about their processes, and continue the celebration at harvest parties and winery dinners.

During the annual Crush Festival in Washington’s Lake Chelan Wine Valley, more than 30 wineries open their doors to visitors.

Celebrate Harvest Italian-Style in San Diego

Held every fall in the Gold Rush mountain town of Julian near San Diego, the Julian Grape Stomp Festa is all about the old-school, old-country traditions surrounding the fall harvest. The festivities include live Italian music, a bocce ball court, and wine tasting from area wineries — and, of course, plenty of chances to stain your feet purple. Entrance to the festival is free, but splurge on a $65 VIP ticket to enjoy perks like a fast-pass to the stomping vat.

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Head to Napa, Sonoma, Italy and beyond this fall. Here are 11 wine harvest events worthy of a visit, whether you’re a newbie or hardcore oenophile.

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