During harvest, we're more aware that we live in a wine culture where grapes are groomed and prepped for the pick.
We're keyed up by the suspense of it — the pick — and we continue to root for the sleep-deprived winemakers all harvest long as they attempt to dance with, and maybe outsmart, Mother Nature yet again.
Getting close to the action has become sport, and thanks to Bob Fraser of Santa Rosa Junior College, there's a way in. Fraser, who teaches a class on Sonoma County appellations (AVAs), is privy to places that reveal harvest with the most authenticity. Here are some of his suggestions:
Stryker Sonoma Winery: This is a favorite choice for a harvest visit in Alexander Valley because winemaker Tim Hardin allows guests to “punch down” grapes during fermentation. There's also plenty of room to roam and ample vineyards, including an “old-vine” zinfandel block. Finally, there's a nice grassy area with picnic tables to have lunch or snacks. 5110 Highway 128, Geyserville, 433-1944, strykersonoma.com.
Forchini Winery: This family-owned winery specializes in zinfandel and pinot noir, and what makes it a standout is the scope of the harvest tour they offer. Owners Jim and Anita Forchini and vineyard manager Andrew Forchini lead guests on a journey from harvest to bottle. ”Jim has some unique, gravity-fed winemaking processes that are totally mind-boggling,” Fraser said. 5141 Dry Creek Road, Healdsburg, 431-8886, forchini.com.
Graton Ridge Cellars: This winery has a picnic area with a bocce court, and it's a great spot from which to watch harvest doings. Of course, for those who want a more hands-on adventure, owners Art and Barbara Paul will lead guests to a pinot noir vineyard and demonstrate viticulture practices, finishing up the tour at the winery. As for another perk, Fraser said the winery has a great picnic area. 3561 Gravenstein Highway N., Sebastopol, 823-3040, gratonridge.com.