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"Anyone who knows his history ... must surely know his wines." 

Arnold Toynbee, famous English economist/historian


Harvest Time

Winery Insight Featured Article - October 2003 by Timothy O. Rice


Ah!  Harvest time!


At wineries around the country and the world, that means many things.


In the vineyards, owners and winemakers worry about the weather, the birds, the handling of the precious grapes.  There is a frenzy of activity as the moment of picking arrives.  The grapes must be carefully sorted, selected, de-stemmed, crushed. The juice must be properly stored and processed.  Through it all, the ordinary tasks still arise.  At the tasting room, patrons still arrive, expecting all the charm and attention they expect the rest of the year.


Some wineries find creative ways to deal with this.  At a winery here in New Jersey (Unionville), we almost signed up to spend a day helping them pick, just to see how it was done and say we had done it.  They had a complete package, with a personal tour and tasting to thank you for your free labor.  Where else can you find deals like that but in the winery business?  It sounds like something out of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn!


We didn’t sign up for that one because we had been invited to a birthday party for a friend, and didn’t think people would understand if we showed up in dirty clothes, just a bit sweaty.  Next year, we may have to duck out on the friend and head for the vineyards.


Seriously, most people we’ve talked to seem to think that would be fun.  My Saturday paper had a travel article about a family that called ahead to make sure they could spend a day picking at harvest on their recent trip to Europe.


Partly that’s because people will do just about anything if you put it to them in the right way.  Partly it is for the novelty of the thing, which allows you to steal the conversation the next time you are at a party.  But I think there’s something more to be seen and learned here.


Years ago, we drank relatively little wine, like most Americans.  Over the years, by friends and family introduced us to wine, and one day we looked around and realized we hardly ever had mixed drinks anymore, and that beer had mainly become something for football games.  Wine softly slithered into our life like a vine; one day, it was just there, a part of meals and parties and friends that seemed inescapable.


There are a lot of elements to that.  For me, wine is a constant adventure, holding the possibility of discovery every time a new bottle is opened.  Some vintages are like old friends, worth a tear or two when you finish the last in memory of the special times that will be no more.  Others leave you sad with wasted potential, and some are like ill-met visitors that you are glad to see the last of.  But at the end of it all, they are all unique.


Enhancing that is the winery experience.  We find that days visiting wineries inevitably leave us with a smile on our faces.  Let’s face it: the people behind the bar are paid to be pleasant to you, even if they would be anyway.  The people you meet there are in the same great mood you are: they are getting away from it all.  They are on vacation, they’re taking the day off, they are away from the kids, they are with the one they love, they are drinking wine.  A million different reasons, all amounting to the same one: they are enjoying themselves.  Even if you don’t really like the wine and are having trouble selecting a bottle for the “courtesy buy”, the experience is still a good one.


More than that, there seems to be something elemental about wine.  It is a part of food and life in a way beer and liquor never seem to match.  There is a renewal to it, a bringing to life of a new generation with every vintage.  People seem to feel some unconscious affinity with wine, with the cycles of nature and the birth of the harvest, the nurturing of the wine to produce the next wondrous vintage.  I think they want to be part of the magic, the rite of passage, and that this is why they are willing and happy to go into the vineyards to help with the harvest.


At harvest time, you can find just about anything at a winery: concerts, fabulous food events, dinners from famous chefs, carnivals, seminars, opportunities for special tours and tastings.  Opportunities to work for free, too, and become part of that renewal of the cycle of life.


Wineries, being businesses as well as ways of life, seek to meld that feeling with their visitor’s patronage, tying them gently to a loyal following of their wines.  That’s why they do the above.  I don’t blame them, and I am glad they do.


Why?  Because it brings us to a season of harvest festivals.  September and October are filled with events that celebrate wine.  You’ll find a sampling of events in the next few weeks listed below, but this is far from all there is.  Check your local winery to see what they are planning.  Visit Weekend Winery to check out their website.  Pick a weekend and have some fun – drop everything, go out into the country, be a tourist, and just have some fun.


 Last modified: August 07, 2007