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. And in 2013, the harvest is earlier than usual.
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 Wine Yakima Valley Catch the Crush event in October or the Thanksgiving in Wine Country event the weekend after Thanksgiving.
- Check the website of the local tourist office: They’re a wealth of information, especially about harvest and wine events. Also, regional and state wine associations are a good source to help you plan. In the Yakima Valley check the Rattlesnake Hills Wine Trail or Wine Yakima Valley for updates and information.
- 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, try hashtags to follow the online conversations, like #WAwine.
- 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.
- Learn about dog friendly wineries: A great resource in Washington Wine Country is winedoggies.com
- Fly to Washington Wine Country: Your Vacation to Washington Wine Country Just Got Easier – with the Taste and Tote Program. Check your first case of wine free from Yakima, Tri-Cities/Pasco or Walla Walla on Alaska Airlines. Show your Alaska Airlines boarding pass for waived tasting fees at more than 200 participating wineries.
- Try something new! We just launched our Spirits and Hops Trail that celebrates the ciders, craft beers and distilled beverages of the Yakima Valley. A nice change of pace. Be sure also to 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 a wine region during the harvest and crush is an exceptional way to learn about fine wines. Enjoy!