Some wine nuts are not completely satisfied with just sipping the stuff. They want to immerse themselves in it by participating in the harvest, pruning the vines and attending blending seminars. I call these activities hands-on wine experiences.
And as fall starts to set in, now is the time to roll up your sleeves and get your hands dirty. Fortunately, much of the California wine community has a long-standing tradition of encouraging friends, family and even outsiders to come and do more than just taste. It’s a chance for wine lovers to understand the process, connect with the vine and have some fun.
Famed sparkling winemaker Schramsberg hosts its annual “camp” each fall, which includes everything from picking the grapes to the winemaking process to labeling. Even the fine art of disgorgement and “dosage,” or removing the yeast, is explained. The company also offers a spring blending program where you can witness the other side of the harvest cycle and see the budding of the vines and learn the importance of pruning.
Zaca Mesa Winery in the Santa Ynez area also explains the finer points of pruning, while Fantesca in Napa presents its own “hands-on” harvest program. Its seems everyone is in on the act. Even famed nameplates like Cakebread and Harlan offer programs and lectures. St. Supery, in the Rutherford District of Napa, not only offers a harvest program, but also a “Grow Your Own” program, in which you learn about vines and rootstock and clonal selection. To bring the lesson full circle, you’re given a vine to plant at home.
One of my favorite wineries, Chateau St. Jean, lets you play “Winemaker for a Day,” where participants taste and blend and compete against other visitors to see who can create the best blend from the same components. Nothing like a little wine and friendly competition to drill the points home.
Similarly, other wineries offer BYOB — Blend Your Own Bottle — programs. Bennett Lane challenges participants to create their own version of the winery’s proprietary Maximus, a blend of cabernet sauvignon, merlot and syrah. Cliff Lede takes it to another level and encourages aspiring winemakers to blend an entire barrel (10 cases), which is then bottled and sent home with the participants. Think of the holiday gifts. In fact, leave this column out as a not-so-subtle hint that you’d like a hands-on wine experience as a present under the tree.
Closer to home, Kokopelli Winery in Chandler hosts its annual Kokopelli Krush this weekend. Live music, dinner and two-member Krush teams are part of the fun. Stomp some grapes and learn about winemaking in the process. For more information, call (480) 792-6927. Also contact the Arizona Wine Growers Association, www.arizonawine.org, to learn about additional hands-on opportunities in our state.
Hands-on wine experiences
• Bennett Lane Winery: (877) 629-6272, www.bennettlane.com
• St. Supery Vineyards and Winery, (800) 942-0809, www.stsupery.com
• Chateau St. Jean, (707) 833-4134, www.chateaustjean.com
• Fantesca Estate and Winery, (707) 968-9229, www.fantesca.com
• Zaca Mesa Winery and Vineyards, (805) 688-9339, www.zacamesa.com
• Schramsberg, (800) 877-3623, www.schramsberg.com
• Cakebread Cellars, (800) 588-0298, www.cakebread.com
• Cliff Lede Vineyards, (800) 428-2259, www.clifflede.com
• Harlan Estate, (707) 944-1441, www.harlanestate.com
Our penchant for wine, spirits, high-end import beers and microbrews continues to climb. According to a recent study released by the trade group Impact, sales of wine and spirits rose 18.2 percent and 16 percent respectively during the past four years, while sales of domestic beer dipped 1.7 percent. Sales of domestic microbrews rose 21.2 percent and imported beers 24.4 percent. Anheuser-Busch, maker of Budweiser, remains the dominant domestic brand.