Best Wine Harvest Festivals & Grape Stomping Events 2023

By | Travel Journalist
Last Updated: August 31, 2023
Woman during grape harvest picking grapes off the vine

For winemakers and wine drinkers alike, there’s hardly a more highly-anticipated time of the year. As we speak, labels across the northern hemisphere are washing their fruit bins and swelling their barrels, setting the table for the arrival of yet another vintage. Given the heat this year, some producers are already knee-deep in the process. Harvest is here, and with it comes the opportunity to partake in a range of exciting wine festivals and harvest-related events.

Each year, we compile a list of exciting experiences that are well worth enjoying. From grape stomping to coastal food & wine festivals, the opportunities are endless. But first, let’s talk a little bit about what makes this season unique.

The Harvest Season

Cutting wine grapes off the vine
As grape clusters are carefully picked and the air fills with the scent of crushed fruit, winemakers and enthusiasts alike revel in a time-honored process.

The wine harvest comes once a year, making it a perennial ritual of the utmost importance. Producers get one shot at the vintage, meaning it’s all hands and focus on deck when the fruit starts to come in. It’s intense, sure, but it’s also a lot of fun. Winemaking crews greet the season with matching shirts, high-energy playlists, high-calorie meals, and a collaborative spirit. It’s the time for the industry, a chance to quite literally bottle history.

On paper, things can be straightforward but curve balls always find their way into agriculture. Selecting a picking time is crucial, as the aim is to find that perfect balance in grape maturity, acid, and sugar content. Meanwhile, rain in the forecast could mean wet fruit and mildew or lack of labor could mean picking earlier or later than is ideal (sometimes even in the middle of the night, headlamps on). At the same time, vineyard pests make their presence felt, with birds and other critters eager to try the ripe fruit.

RELATED: Top Destinations in North America to Experience Fall Foliage

Harvest is an arc of activity that just builds and builds early on. Eventually, winemakers are juggling several wine lots at once, monitoring a fermentation here, racking a wine there, putting a freshly-pressed wine to barrel somewhere else. The best of the best stay organized, energized, and greet the curveballs with open arms and collective experience.

“The specialness of this time of year is how the weather is changing,” says Wayne Bailey of Youngberg Hill Winery in Oregon. “It is also the time of year when you get to reap the fruits of your labor, just like every agricultural product.”

Turning Grapes into Wine

First comes the fruit. It’s often hand-picked, arriving at the winery in half-ton bins by way of truck. It typically finds its way onto the sorting line, where the crew weeds out the lesser clusters (underripe, sun dried, etc.). It’s typically then de-stemmed, with the berries falling into a fermenter. 

The fermentation process turns the sugar into alcohol. Some producers will encourage this to occur naturally (indigenous yeast exists on the fruit). Others will opt for a little more control and introduce a commercial strain of yeast to get things going. Over the next couple of weeks, it’s a feast of wonderful fragrances as the must (young grape juice) becomes wine. During this stretch, the red wines are often punched down manually or treated to a pump-over to keep the cap (the layer of grape skins that naturally forms at the top of the fermenter) wet and encourage even extraction. One day, a lot might smell like freshly-baked bread. The next, like pie fruit and baking spices. 

When the fermentation is complete, it’s pressing time. Although with white and pink wines, the pressing happens earlier in the process. The press looks like a giant rolling pin and gently squeezes the last bits of flavorful juice out of the grape solids. At this point, many winemakers will have a taste of those telltale first few drops, the very beginnings of the vintage in the glass. It’s a rewarding period as the resulting wine will soon be racked and go to barrel for the season.

RELATED: Fall Wine & Music Pairings: Our Team of Wine Experts Choose Their Favorites

The Superstitions

With the stakes so high, it’s easy for superstitions to enter the winemaking realm. Little rituals here and there can keep the wine and weather gods happy, ensuring healthy fruit and a year of great wines. Some winemakers don a lucky pair of boots or shirt throughout harvest. Others carry around a special coffee mug as a good luck charm. Some only listen to certain bands, convinced the young wines are listening.

There are winemakers who like to greet the first batch of fruit on the crush pad with a sabered bottle of Champagne. Some like to christen the first fermented lot with a splash of a previous vintage. Others are too focused on making wine to really enjoy it, hands stained red from 14 straight hours in the cellar. “It takes a lot of beer to make wine,” is a common phrase in Willamette Valley wine country this time of year.

Grape stomping during harvest season
Join wine producers in this age-old tradition, where grapes are crushed underfoot, laughter fills the air, and everyone becomes part of the winemaking process. It’s more than just a fun activity; it’s a way to connect with the land, the wine, and regional heritage.

Top Wine Harvest Festivals & Events to Partake in This Year

Napa Wine Train Grape Stomp

Location: Napa Valley, CA

Event Date(s): Various dates through October (but you can book the Wine Train throughout the year)

Pricing: Varies

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Take in harvest the age-old way with some good old-fashioned grape stomping. Enjoy wines, a gourmet lunch, and a two-hour ride aboard the historic Napa Valley wine train with a stop at Grgich Hills winery. The day mixes luxury accommodations aboard the vintage train with the bucolic joys of crushing grapes and the festive nature of this very special time of year.

RELATED: Top Napa Valley Wineries to Visit: The Complete Wine Tasting Guide

Bella Vineyards Harvest Dinner

Location: Healdsburg, CA

Event Date(s): September 8th (5:30-9 PM)

Pricing: $185/$165 club members

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Bella Vineyards is teaming up with pop-up culinary outfit Field Day for a spectacular harvest dinner. Come take in the joys of the season, as they go between grape pickings and press loads. The evening will feature a feast for the senses with thoughtful wine pairings, under a starlit sky in Dry Creek Valley to the tune of Brazilian music. Here’s to vintage 2022!

RELATED: The Best Things to Do in Healdsburg CA

Narmada Winery Harvest Festival

Location: Amissville, VA

Event Date(s): October 21th (6-9 PM)

Pricing: N/A

Book Now

We’re toasting to harvest in style, with a bonfire, Indian cuisine, and fireworks. Enjoy a glass of wine in front of the thawing flames and bid harvest 2022 a proper farewell.

Fall Wine Club Release Event

Location: Madison, OH

Event Date(s): October 24th-26th (4-8 PM)

Pricing: Free

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Enjoy just-released wines alongside small complementary bites from our house chef at Laurentia Vineyard and Winery. Celebrate the bounty of harvest time and gain access to new wines, limited releases, and more. Take in the spirit of harvest.

Harvest Series: Fermentation Science

Location: Gunnison, CO

Event Date(s): October 20th (5:30-7 PM)

Pricing: $25

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Join Buckel Family Wine in exploring the wonders of fermentation, the process that transforms grape juice into delectable wine. Taste through different stages of the process, learn about the power of yeast and how it can impact the resulting wine, and take in all the equipment we use to make it all happen. If you like this event, come back on November 10th for a course on wine blending.

Big Sur Food & Wine Festival

Location: Big Sur, CA

Event Date(s): November 2-4th

Pricing: N/A

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Drink in the tremendous flavors of California’s central coast this harvest season. The event celebrates the marriage of food and wine, pairing area wineries with award-winning chefs. Our rugged setting is pretty but the wines are even better.

Share The Bounty

Location: Niagara Wine Trail, NY

Event Date(s): November 11th-12th

Pricing: Free, Donations Welcome

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Harvestime is about enjoying the fruits of our labor and giving back to the community that makes it all happen. Check out upstate New York’s lovely Niagara Wine Trail this November, where several participating wineries will be honoring the season with special tastings and chances to donate to the greater good. The annual fundraising event helps food banks, food pantries, and charities along the Niagara Wine Trail.

Oregon Wine Country Thanksgiving

Location: Willamette Valley, OR

Event Date(s): November 25th-27th

Pricing: N/A

Book Now

A celebration the whole valley takes part in, Wine Country Thanksgiving sees hundreds of area producers welcome guests for a post-harvest party. Enjoy special releases, food pairings, live entertainment, and gift ideas for the forthcoming holiday season. It’s the Willamette Valley’s salute to another great vintage in the books.

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