The How-To Harvest

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Harvest Tales - Part 2

by Robert P. Farmer

It's easy enough to feel like you're part of the wine country harvest simply visiting in the fall. But there are ways to truly be part of the action. Short of pulling up stakes and moving here, you can act like a local by getting involved with one of the many programs designed by wineries to make guests feel right at home. These events and programs don't only take place during harvest, but there's no better time to take advantage.

There are a number of excellent behind-the-scenes programs at wineries throughout wine country and in all of California's various wine regions. They range from full-fledged, yearlong grow-your-own courses to afternoon-length grape stomps. The programs are fun, educational ways to get to know wines first hand.

A good example is the selection of courses offered by Ravenswood Winery (18701 Gehricke Rd., Sonoma; 707-933-2332; www.ravenswood-wine.com), who still seem like they're having more fun than anybody when comes to making wine. Ravenswood--with the tagline "no wimpy wines," and who has one of the friendliest, funniest staffs in Sonoma valley--offers tours every day at 10:30 in the morning that begin with a stroll through the estate vineyards to inspect the fruit up close. Then you returning to the cellar to sample wine straight from the barrel. Or, you make your own Ravenswood wine. Try your hand at the subtle and complex art of wine blending in a blending seminar, which allows you to build a wine to your personal tastes - it's not as easy as it sounds! At Ravenswood, guests go home with a 375-ml bottle of their own concoction.

In Napa, St. Supery Winery (8440 St. Helena Hwy, Rutherford; 707-963-4507; www.stsupery.com) features numerous programs that let visitors get personal with the wines and the winemaking process. Each season, the winery holds harvest camp, one-day programs that start with grape picking and culminate with wine blending. In winter months, St. Supery offers a behind-the-scene program that lets guests explore the employee-only wine cellar in the company of an expert who explains the winemaking process in terms everyone can understand. The tours, each Sunday at 11am December-March (as well as Sat. Nov. 18 and 25), conclude with barrel tastings of estate grown cabernet. In past years, St. Supery has also offered a grow-your-own program; about the closest thing you can get to owning your own winery. From rootstock and grapevine clone selection and grafting, guests get hands-on instruction through the entire process. Typically held in the early part of the year, the winery has yet to determine if they'll offer the program in 2007. "If not that, we'll definitely do something like it," a winery source says.

And for the serious amateur winemaker, there's the winemaking program at the Napa Valley Reserve (707-986-3192; www.thenapavalleyreserve.com). This members-only, by-invitation club was founded in 2003 by Bill Harlan, of Harlan Estate, to offer people the experience of having their own vineyard at a fraction of the cost, stress, and effort. The year-long program not cheap at $145,000 per member, but those who can afford it are afforded an opportunity to plant and work their own vines, harvest and process their own grapes, and finally bottle and enjoy their own wine.

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