As we move from summer to autumn, vineyards across Europe and North America are busy harvesting the fruits of their labour to prepare for the winter winemaking season. For a wine enthusiast, being part of the actual winemaking ritual can be very appealing: the picking process gives you insight into the hard work and time that go into wine production and a greater appreciation for the wine you drink.
If you are looking for an unusual solo-travelling experience, joining a vineyard for the harvest might be a great chance to challenge yourself (mentally and physically) as well as keeping at bay whatever midlife crisis you may be experiencing, transforming it into an opportunity to grow. From grape picking to pressing and juice fermentation, the whole process lasts from two to three weeks and it involves a lot of laughter and pain.
Although it might sound romantic, It’s not a stroll in the park – says Karen C., 52, from Los Angeles, who experienced the joy and challenges of grape harvesting in Chianti last year-. Grape harvesting is not for everyone. And unless you are on a personal mission, it’s better to stay home. Also, bring rubber boots as you get really wet. The best part of the experience? Through harvest, you develop a cameraderie with fellow workers, vineyard and winery owners as you work together to create something – when learning and seeing exactly how wine is made and witnessing the chemistry and science that goes into winemaking, the experience becomes unforgettable and connective.
In exchange for long and intense days, most wineries usually offer meals, wine and lodging, making this an ideal vacation for the budget traveller. A chance to become truly immersed in the agricultural life of a region, to meet locals, share in an age-old tradition, enjoy breathtaking vineyard views and hopefully, indulge in the fruits of your labour.
How to volunteer at a wine harvest
While opportunities for volunteering exist, finding them requires some persistence – especially with ongoing Coronavirus restrictions. In Europe, for instance, taking part in the wine harvest as a tourist can be tricky due to employment and insurance laws and also because many wineries simply prefer to use trained pickers rather than letting unknown visitors loose on their grapes.
Ideally, the best would be to choose a lesser-known region and seek out small family-owned wineries or alternatively contact the local chamber of commerce, the tourist office or a wine association in the area of choice.
In general, you would register your interest prior to the season by contacting the individual winery, or you could just visit the winery on public picking days that are usually advertised in local newspapers. The organization World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms connects volunteers with independent farmers, including winemakers, through its website, wwoof.net. Members pay approximately a 25 euro registration fee to access a database of hosts offering room and board in exchange for help. Sites like Anefa.org and Pole-Emploi.fr constantly post listings for vineyard work throughout the fall seasons in France, too.
Wine harvest tour
If all this sounds like too much legwork, some tour operators, hotels and vineyards across Europe can arrange grape picking for you as part of your stay (face mask required when visiting). Here are some examples, CrunchyTales has found for you.
France – Champagne Harvest Break
This package provided to you by Grape Escapes gives you the exclusive opportunity to experience the real life of a wine-maker and take part in the fascinating harvest. After settling in at the 4* Hotel de la Paix in the town of Reims, a pre-booked and pre-paid transfer will take you to the impressive Champagne Taittinger which is located on the outskirts of the city. Here, you will have a chance to experience a unique and exciting day as a Champagne harvester picking the grapes with the harvesting team. This once-in-a-lifetime activity will allow you to truly immerse yourself in the spirit of the Champenoise people and will last for around an hour. Following your time in the vines, you will have a private tour of the winery to help you understand the process from vine to bottle. You will then enjoy a typical harvest lunch accompanied by a selection of the estate’s Champagnes in a private area.
Guide price: From £599
This is a unique, unmissable experience to learn about the secrets of grape processing, winemaking and grappa production in the Piana Rotaliana Königsberg, in the heart of Trentino, midway between Trento and Bolzano. Take a stroll through the vineyards with an expert local winemaker and learn about the history and techniques for selecting the best grapes. Taste a few grapes or grab a pair of secateurs and a bucket and try your hand at picking grapes. Booking required
Price on request
Portugal – Douro Valley Grape Harvest Tour
Learn about the winemaking process from start to finish on this full-day tour in the Douro Valley. Head to a vineyard and harvest the grapes straight off the vines and then learn the ancient grape stomping technique that was used for many years to make wine. Enjoy a wine tasting, appetizers, and a delicious Portuguese lunch before watching a local performance. Spend the day learning about wine in the Douro Valley Harvest your own grapes and learn the grape stomping technique.
Guide price: 200 euros
Spain – Harvest Morning in Catalunya
From September 14th to 21st, enjoy a harvest morning in an idyllic scenery among the vineyards of Familia Torres and become an active part of a thousand-year-old tradition. During this workshop, you will get to know, first-hand, the wine-making process: from the selection of the grapes at the vineyard to have a glass of the final product. This tour will include a Catalan breakfast (bread and tomato with Catalan charcuterie) as well as a winery tour with commented wine tasting (grape juice for those under 18).
Price on request
Curious to know what happens behind the scenes at the Tinwood Estate? Take part in one of their grape harvest workshops surrounded by the stunning Sussex countryside. Working closely with the vineyard team you can ask them many questions and find what makes the vineyard ‘tick’. In these 2 hours, you will be able to pick one of their different grape varieties: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir or Pinot Meunier.
Guide price: £ 59 per person