More than any other beverage in the world, wine brings us closer to nature. The character of the climate, the undulations of the land and even the contents of the soil all have an enormous impact on the aromas, flavor, and structure of a wine.
And nothing brings you closer to this interaction than traveling to a wine region during its harvest season. For this reason, harvest season is often a popular time to visit the world’s best wine regions — it’s just that some regions are more accessible than others.
Take for instance Barolo in northwest Italy, where fully staffed wine-tasting rooms are rare, if non-existent. Here, travelers often have to take the extra step of scheduling appointments with wineries to have a tasting and, when harvest rolls around, wineries and their staff are, well … kind of busy. Entertaining wine enthusiasts become a lower priority for them.
With harvest season in our midst, we wanted to create a quick beginner’s guide to traveling during this time at five of our favorite wine destinations.
Sonoma County Harvest
Best known for: Everything from Cabernet Sauvignon and Sauvignon Blanc (which love the heat of the valley floor) to Pinot Noir (which loves the cool highlands).
When is the harvest?: Harvest in Sonoma County usually begins in August for lighter grapes and lasts until October for some of the bolder grapes (Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon) that need to ripen more. But in hotter and drier vintages (such as 2015), harvest can occur even a few weeks earlier.
What is it like during harvest?: Traveling to Sonoma (and neighboring Napa Valley for that matter) is still fairly straightforward during harvest season. Many of Sonoma’s most acclaimed wineries have fully staffed wine-tasting rooms, so making appointments is not entirely necessary.
But if you want to visit a particular “cult winery” or smaller-production winemaker that doesn’t have a fully staffed wine room, you will need to schedule a visit (something our on-site concierge can arrange for you), and expect to work around their schedule a bit. But the rewards for your effort are ten-fold: nothing is sweeter than forging an intimate connection with a small-production wine that you love.
Homework assignment: Drink a bottle of the 2017 Tamber Bey Vineyards Pinot Noir from the Sun Chase Vineyard.
Where to stay: Relax at one of Inspirato’s many hotels and vacation rentals in Sonoma.
Santa Barbara County Harvest
Best known for: Perhaps best known for Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, Santa Barbara County also produces amazing Grenache and Syrah.
When is the harvest?: September in lower areas, October in higher elevations, although with this year’s hot and dry weather, the harvest is already beginning in certain vineyards.
What is it like during harvest?: Santa Barbara’s beautiful wine country has a much slower pace than Napa, even during the busy harvest season.
The best introduction to the magic of the area’s harvest comes in early October with The Celebration of Harvest Weekend. A harvest dinner, wine seminars and a passport to visit up to 12 wineries give oenophiles a well-rounded perspective on the area’s wines, as well as a first-hand preview of that year’s vintage.
During the fall, the area often sees morning fog rolling in from the Pacific Ocean, creating a beautiful layered effect on the rows of vines. Bring an SLR camera to capture the magic.
Homework assignment: Drink any of Qupé Winery’s sublime Syrahs.
Where to stay: Stay in a beautiful suite at the Belmond El Encanto.
Best known for: The legendary Sangiovese-based wines of Chianti Classico and Brunello di Montalcino, as well as “Super Tuscans” — the Cabernet-based blends from the coastal Maremma region.
When is the harvest: End of September through October. Tuscany’s white wines (such as Vernaccia and Trebbiano) are usually harvested first, followed by the king grape of the region — Sangiovese — in early to late October depending on the year.
What is it like during harvest: As if the Tuscan landscape of vineyards, tidy cypress trees, and hilltop villas weren’t romantic enough, the harvest makes it even more photogenic as workers bring plump purple grapes in from the vineyards. There is also no better time of year to take a hot-air balloon ride over the countryside.
The best way to experience the harvest first-hand in Tuscany is through a private tour — which Inspirato’s Destination Concierge can arrange. At select wineries, you will be afforded a wine tasting as well as the possibility of seeing the new vintage as it enters the crusher to begin its magical journey from juice to wine. You would also be remiss to not stop by the massive Enoteca Falorni wine shop in Greve in Chianti.
Where to stay: Relax at one of Inspirato’s villas in Tuscany.
Known for: The wine most associated with Provence is rosé, usually made from a blend of Grenache, Cinsault, Syrah and other grapes. But numerous red blends (often focused on Grenache, Syrah, and Mourvedre) are gaining in prestige.
When is the harvest?: Harvest (or vendange) in Provence usually starts in September and runs through October depending on the weather.
What is it like during harvest?: Unlike areas where tradition reigns supreme — think Bordeaux and Burgundy — Provence has a dynamic wine culture that is constantly evolving. For instance, it wasn’t long ago that all the action at harvest time centered on village cooperatives. Now, many wines are being estate bottled, which makes vendange a little more accessible to visitors. As with Tuscany, your best bet is to have your Inspirato destination concierge arrange for a private tour during what is a busy season for vignerons.
The up-and-coming red wines of Les Baux de Provence are worth seeking out, as well as a visit to Tavel, a village near Avignon that (for my tastes at least) makes the best rosé on earth.
Homework assignment: Drink a bottle of that “best rosé on earth” I just mentioned, Domaine de la Mordorée “La Dame Rousse” Tavel.
Douro River Harvest
Known for: The days of Portugal’s Douro River being known only for Port are over. Today, the Douro’s fantastically bold and rich red wines — often from indigenous grapes not found elsewhere — are garnering accolades worldwide.
When is the harvest?: Throughout the month of September.
What is it like during harvest?: With the winding Douro River carving its course through impossibly steep, terraced hillsides, Portugal’s most acclaimed wine region is among the world’s prettiest, too.
The Douro can be a festive place during harvest season. Numerous private tours can take you to the vineyards where you can participate in the grape picking (if you want) as well as the various quintas where the freshly picked grapes — that will eventually become Port or a Reserva red — are crushed by foot. Expect lots of merriment and even a little music in some places: picking grapes from the steep vineyards is hard work, and the first crush is certainly cause for celebration.
Homework assignment: Drink a bottle of Quinta de la Rosa Reserva.
Where to stay: Stay in one of Inspirato’s suites at the Six Senses Douro Valley.