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The Crush

It seems such a simple process: grow, harvest, crush. But then the magic of making wine is in the details and the subtleties, the myriad activities that begin in the ground and end in a glass

The Crush

It seems such a simple process: grow, harvest, crush. But then the magic of making wine is in the details and the subtleties, the myriad activities that begin in the ground and end in a glass

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ey to the process is the harvest, which presents a rare opportunity for average wine-lovers to become part of the wine-making story. For more than eight millennia, humans have picked grapes and crushed them en route to enjoying wine, and so to participate in the harvest is to become part of a larger human story as well. Many of the following places can help you kick off your shoes, climb in the barrel, and join in one of the oldest celebrations around—forever changing your relationship with wine. Welcome to the crush

Harvest is all about the opening and closing chapters,” says Christian Oggenfuss, founder of Napa Valley Wine Academy (NVWA) in California, one of America’s premiere wine education academies. “It is the closing chapter of a vintage in that things are baked-in to the grapes at that point, but it is the opening chapter in that it is the unlocking or translation of that vintage into the final product, that point of alchemy where grapes become wine. For a traveler or a casual observer it’s a magical time, the most beautiful time of the year. The leaves on the vines change color, going from gold and red from green, there’s a flurry of activity in the vineyards, and the whole valley smells like fermenting grapes, a candied fruit smell like an aroma you would find in a panettone. You have winemakers out practicing their craft, the weather is starting to cool down, and there’s so much excitement— there’s a real energy and optimism during this time of year.”

NVWA offers a wide spectrum of educational opportunities throughout the year, including tastings for casual enthusiasts and top-end certifications for professional sommeliers, and similarly it hosts various options during harvest. There’s a three-day “grape stomp experience,” which Oggenfuss says offers a wonderful sense of the wine-making process, and there’s also a seven-day boot camp, a far deeper education. Whichever guests choose, he says visitors walk away understanding one of the most important aspects of winecraft: community.

“We often talk about ‘terroir’ in wines, and people ascribe terroir to the ground and the interplay between ground and sky, geology and climate,” he explains. “But it really is a triangle, because there’s the human element, and that’s beyond just one person, beyond the winemaker. It’s about the culture that exists around those other elements, and how that culture interprets what is happening. It’s about tradition, and knowledge that’s passed down, and the impact generations have on how vineyards operate and how various wines are made. We often say the same grapes from one vineyard at two different wineries will yield two different wines that taste completely different. That’s the human element, and it’s beautiful.”


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Napa Valley Wine Academy Bootcamp

The Town of Calistoga

For the past few years the town of Calistoga, at the Napa Valley’s north end, has been hosting an incredible Harvest Table. The town blocks off its main street and sets more than 1,000 feet of tables in the downtown center, replete with Old West charm. Nine local restaurants and more than 40 wineries participate to serve what organizers call “an unparalleled culinary experience,” and they’re not kidding. Tickets go on sale in July on Eventbrite for the dinner, which this year takes place on September 11. Even if you don’t get a ticket for the table, an extended public social hour gets you in on local wines and conversation from 4:30 pm to 6pm—just long enough to talk a new [ticket-holding] friend into sharing a tasting plate.


V. Sattui Winery

This winery, which grew out of a business founded in 1885, is known for embracing the fun side of the vine, and so it should come as no surprise that their annual October Crush Party is one of the more popular in the area. They throw open the doors of the winery and give people a behind-the-scenes look at how their wines are made, plus there’s live music and piles of amazing food pouring out of their wood-fired pizza ovens and off their live-fire Tuscan grill. Best of all, there’s an “old fashioned grape stomp” with numerous buckets set up for individuals and couples to crush away. And when you’re done turning your feet purple, you get to enjoy some beauty in your glass—more than 40 wines are on offer to try, each glass getting you a little closer to the dance floor…


ZD Wines

Three generations of the deLeuze family operate this winery, which was founded in 1969. Building on a legacy of respected and lauded pours, their Crush Challenge in August is a fun-filled day of great food, cycling and wines. Come harvest time, their Harvest Wine Celebration in November focuses on the bottled stuff and benefits the Boys & Girls Clubs of Napa Valley’s Teen Center.


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Frog’s Leap

We’ve long been fans of this winery, with its luxe-casual tasting room and principled organic grape growing, dry farming and biodynamic attentions. In fall, Frog’s Leap runs a Frogtoberfest end-of-harvest celebration for “Fellowship of the Frog” winery members. It’s quite a limited affair, 90 seats only, but for the lucky few who get to attend a proper feast is on offer. Owner and Winemaker John Williams shares wines and stories from the vineyard, Chef Daniel Bruce creates an incredible menu and, with no detail left to chance, a good time is had by all.


Grgich Hills Estate

“In the past you followed a stranger into the grapes and stomped, but since Covid that won’t fly anymore.” So explains a tasting room representative at this Napa institution, named for Miljenko “Mike” Grgich, who made history in 1976 by beating an array of French Burgandies in a blind Paris Tasting to have a Napa Chardonnay he’d crafted be named finest white wine in the world. Today, rather than crowds milling among the vineyards and stomping away, wine club members can book a picnic experience, which includes a gourmet picnic lunch for two in an elegant tote (which patrons get to keep). Book the picnic experience and you can add a grape stomp to your day, making for an enjoyable, wine-soaked afternoon.



One of Napa’s oldest wineries (it was founded in 1862) and home to the sparkling wines that have been served at all official State functions by every U.S. President since Nixon, Schramsberg goes deep during harvest. They host a Camp Davies Fall Harvest Session in October, a three-day “wine adventure” that begins with an orientation dinner and sparkling wine reception and then enters two days of wine education. The first includes a trip to the vineyards with the director of winemaking to harvest grapes and to get a crush course (sorry!) on various viticultural practices, learning how sugar and acid balance and how various techniques play into the Davies Vineyards wines. Campers get to experience “the crush” on the same day, following through on the winemaking process and enjoying lunch. Day three is all about [grape] skin contact, tastings and more education on the wine process. The whole thing concludes with a graduation and certificate (and presumably more wine). For true oenophiles who want a deeper dive into the barrel, this is a great way to enjoy the harvest season.


Rutherford Hill

For fans of BBQ, good music and wine, this Terlato Family Winery’s annual Barn Bash release party in September is a harvest celebration not to be missed. Live music plays and the food keeps coming, even as wines are paired with incredible views from the top of the winery’s namesake, Rutherford Hill. Rutherford Hill holds the distinction of employing wine caves, which it built and in which it ages wines year-round in nearly 8,000 French and American oak barrels.


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Trefethen Vineyards

Held in late September, Trefethen’s “Hands-on Harvest” gets you into the grapes to lend a hand and to follow the juice on its journey from vineyard to bottle. Set in the Oak Knoll District of Napa’s southern end, the vineyards benefit from a mild, cool climate and a temperature that can be up to 10˚F cooler than properties further north in the valley. This can mean opportunities for a wider variety of grapes, which on Trefethen’s property are grown along principles of biodiversity and sustainability. As a responsible vineyard that produces beautiful wines, it’s a great option for a harvest experience.


Buena Vista Winery

Opposite Napa in Sonoma Valley, Buena Vista Winery takes a festively relaxed approach to harvest with its annual harvest brunch for club members. The day takes guests through the process of wine-making, touring various areas of the winery before retiring to the courtyard for a fantastic brunch. If you want to get into the crushing action they’re happy to oblige—just let them know you want to join the crush team and, if it’s not already sold out, prepare to stomp.


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Meadowood and the Montage Healdsburg pool


Montage Healdsburg

If you’re looking to stay in Sonoma and maximize your access to the breadth of Northern California’s wine country, this retreat sits among 285 beautiful acres. Three restaurants, a “zero-edge” pool and an 11,500-square-foot spa nicely complement any harvest vacation.


Set behind a vineyard close to nearly everywhere you want to visit in Napa, the elegant Meadowood features superlative accommodations, a top spa, and tremendous amenities, including a professional-level croquet lawn and a charming 9-hole golf course.

Carneros Resort

We could spend all day in the pool at this Napa property, staring at the hills and enjoying a glass of something wonderful—but then we’d miss out on the newly renovated cottages, which feature clean lines and sharp California design, and we’d miss the spa, complimentary bicycles and great dining as well. Heated floors in the bathrooms, deep soaking tubs and wine tastings, too? Count us in.



Carlton Crush

Like Calistoga in California, the whole town of Carlton, Oregon, gets in on the harvest activities, manifested in the Carlton Crush Harvest Festival in mid September. Held in downtown, the festival is something of a town fair, with different age-grouped categories of grape stomping competitions, team grape stomp competitions, a dunk tank and all manner of dining, wine and beer on offer, plus arts and crafts, live music and the best kind of small town fun.


Soter Vineyards

With Bravo Top Chef contestant Sara Hauman directing the culinary program here, you know this winery has good taste. Its Mineral Springs Ranch tasting room offers an array of seasonally appropriate tastings and experiences, including some of the property’s fantastic fare, while the wines leave no doubt that this is a worthwhile stop during harvest or any other time.


Domaine Serene

In mid-September, the winemaker and others recap the year’s growing season, discuss what’s going into the bottles and answer any questions you might have before the wine starts flowing and the food starts showing up. Numerous local vendors participate, and food pairing is the name of the game, with sommeliers matching vineyard selections to a diverse array of cuisines. Live music and a good time are guaranteed.



Black Walnut Inn & Vineyard

The valley view suites are a perfect home base for exploring the local wine country, with French doors that open to patios featuring stunning views across Willemette Valley vineyards. With top-end wine and culinary experiences on offer and luxury everywhere, what’s not to love.

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Soter Vineyards; Black Walnut Inn


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Catch The Crush

Washington’s Yakima Valley knows how to party when harvest comes around. In mid October, the Catch The Crush event brings a wide array of local wineries together for a festival that features grape stomps, plenty of food, live music and specialty wine releases. Best of all, the festival is free. Just show up and jump in—literally. Stomp with the area’s VanArnam Vineyards and you can get a T-shirt with your grape-soaked footprints on them—an unofficial badge for members of the Purple Feet Club. One thing to remember: bring your own (non-breakable) glass.


Canvasback Harvest Party

This Walla Walla winery (say “Walla Walla winery” quickly five times after a few glasses) celebrates fall with a mid-September Harvest Party. Held on the broad lawn in front of the wide-open tasting room, the festival is a casual affair that allows you to stomp grapes, play lawn games and listen to live music while someone else handles the grill and keeps the wine flowing.


Italian Heritage Days

If you like your wine with Italian food and music, this Walla Walla celebration of Italian heritage in mid-October coincides with harvest and features grape stomping competitions, a parade, Italian dancing, Italian music, and a seemingly endless supply of inspiring Italian foods and local wines. Salute!


Eritage Resort

Set on 300 acres of rolling wheat fields and vineyards, this modern property just minutes from downtown Walla Walla feels a world away, thanks in part to the spacious guest rooms and suites, some of which feature high ceilings, fireplaces and amenities and all the room you need to stretch out, wine down and relax. Remember to enquire about harvest-related dinners and events.


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