The season is turning. Nights are cooler and as the sun rises, there’s a mist on the valley floor. Soon gold and red trees will dot the distant hills. It’s harvest time in wine country. If you plan right, fall is a great time to visit and immerse yourself in the wine making process.
Here are some tips to help you enjoy Washington wine country during the harvest:
- Plan ahead: In wine country many visitors come during the harvest and crush. That requires extensive advance planning for lodging, dining and activities. Here in the Yakima Valley the weekend traffic is manageable and there are great activities like the Prosser Balloon Rally, the Catch the Crush event in October, or the Thanksgiving in Wine Country event the weekend after Thanksgiving.
- Check the website of the local tourism office: They’re a wealth of information, especially about harvest and wine events. In the Yakima Valley check the our wine website for updates and our event calendar.
- Learn before you go: Visit websites and videos about the regions and wine making process. Brush up on the art of tasting and basic wine terms. And if you use Twitter and Instagram, try hashtags to follow the online conversations, like #WAwine #YakimaValley #WAHarvest and #2014harvest.
- Wine regions are agricultural regions: With a few exceptions, most vineyards and wineries are located on rural back roads. That’s part of their charm. During harvest though expect more traffic, especially farm equipment. In the Yakima Valley the wine grape harvest coincides with other fruit harvests. Be patient and obey the rules of the road.
- Designate a driver: Basic rule for any season. Be sure to reward them for the duty though, like buying the lunch or a bottle for later on!
- Pace Yourself: Plan on visiting up to five wineries a day. Your palette will go numb if you try to tackle too many wineries. Plus, during harvest you may want to linger to watch what’s happening.
- Expect a different mood: It’s very different at wineries in the fall. There’s a tension and excitement as the winemakers and staff work to bring in the grapes. The hours are long and all hands are on deck. Ask questions about what’s going on, but be respectful if they have limited time to chat.
- Prepare for the weather: And remember the wine! It may be cooler, but on sunny mild days the temperature inside a trunk or car can climb to a level not good for wine. Bring a cooler or two.
- Get involved: Many wineries have programs where you can actually work the harvest. You wear your grubbies, get an assignment and work the fields harvesting or other tasks. It’s a great way to gain a greater appreciation of the hard work that goes into making wine plus learn directly from the winemakers. Want to try something really fun and get your feet all purple? In late September and October various wineries will have grape stompin’ fun events. Read more here.
- Learn about dog friendly wineries: A great resource in the Valley is winedoggies.com
- Fly to Washington wine country: Your Vacation to Washington Wine Country just got easier – with the Taste and Tote Program. Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan™ members can check their first case of wine free from Yakima on Alaska Airlines. Show your Alaska Airlines boarding pass for waived tasting fees at more than 200 participating wineries throughout the region. Plus Hertz Car rentals has deals year-round and waives drop off fees in the region. Check the website for details.
- Try something new! Our Spirits and Hops Trail celebrates the ciders, craft beers and distilled beverages of the Yakima Valley. A nice change of pace. Also, check out local produce stands and farmers markets for some great veggies and fruit to pair with your wines.
With the right planning and attitude, a visit to the Yakima Valley during the harvest and crush is an exceptional way to learn about our fine wines. Enjoy!