The grape harvesting experience

by Karen Bradbury
Stripes Europe

Wine has made up part of European culture since time immemorial, and vineyards are a defining feature of some of the continent’s most breathtaking landscapes. As autumn falls and the grapes reach optimal ripeness, the time for the Weinlese, vendange, or vendemmia—terms which apply strictly to the harvest of grapes —draws near. And many wineries offer the public to get hands-on with the process.

Schloss Vollrads
Oestrich-Winkel, Germany

The morning begins with a glass of chilled Riesling at the wine estate. Helpers are then transported into the vineyards and shown how to cut grapes from the vine. When harvesting is done, it’s back to the winery, where a rustic Vesper plate of bread and cold cuts await. The vintner then conducts a tour through the cellar and explains steps in the winemaking process. In several months’ time, when the wine of the grapes from this harvest is ready, helpers receive a bottle. The four-hour experience, tentatively slated for Oct. 6 and 7 in 2018, costs 54 euros per person.

“Vintner for a day”
Alsace Region, France

For several years now, the Synvira association of independent winemakers has partnered with local tourism authorities to allow visitors to take part in the annual grape harvest. The day starts with the winemaker greeting his helpers and acquainting them with harvesting techniques. Then it’s off to the vineyards for a couple hours of labor. In the wine cellar, the host shows how grapes are transformed into wine, and a degustation follows. Participants are then awarded their “Vintner for a Day” diplomas. Three-hour morning or afternoon sessions cost 30 euros; a five-hour package including a meal goes for 45 euros. Reserve by contacting a tourist office in any of the following districts: The Vinotrip travel agency offers packages incorporating the harvest experience with an overnight stay in a guest house at a wine estate and dinner at a typical Alsatian restaurant; prices start at 200 euros per person.

Agriturismo Da Sagraro
Mossano, Italy

The Da Sagraro estate, idyllically situated in the Berici Hills south of Vicenza, cultivates two main crops: grapes and olives. From September through November of each year, proprietors Sonia and Fabio invite guests to see first-hand how grapes are made into wine and olives are turned to oil.  

As part of the wine discovery experience, participants learn about the grape’s growth cycle, the pruning of the vines, grape varieties and the influence of terroir. The day typically begins with a coffee and homemade cookies, followed by a trip to the vineyards to harvest grapes and load them into a waiting trailer. In the wine cellar, pressing and winemaking techniques are demonstrated, followed by sampling of the tangy, freshly pressed juice known as must. Kids can stomp on grapes while their parents taste the wines. The experience ends with participants joining one another at the table for a well-earned lunch. Prices start at about 35 euros for adults; there are discounted rates for children and the very youngest accompany their parents for free.

Although the harvest dates are preliminarily fixed based on normal weather patterns in a given region, would-be helpers should note that these dates can— and often do—vary according to the whims of nature. Even if you’re not lending a hand to the harvest, September and October are great months to plan a hike through the vineyards or visit a wine estate. Chances are some kind of festival celebrating the bounty of the grape won’t be too far off.

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