The Harvest Party Circuit
To taste new wines before they disappear into barrels, visit these celebrations around the world
The harvest is an intense time of year, when winemakers "work 18 hours a day and sleep four hours a night," according to François Faiveley, of the Nuits-Saint-Georges winery in Burgundy. Yet some winemakers are so excited at the prospect of a great vintage that they somehow squeeze in a few extra hours for harvest festivities. For visitors looking to stomp grapes, eat seasonal regional foods, gaze on golden autumn light on rows of vines, hang with the locals and feel the thrill of the crush, here are some places around the globe to taste the first fruits of the harvest before the grape juice disappears into barrels.
Alsace is the rare French wine region that enthusiastically celebrates the harvest. It also scores over Bordeaux and Burgundy's Côte d'Or in the dreamlike beauty of its landscape: the vineyards share the slopes of the Vosges mountains with a national park and half-timbered Germanic villages that are instantly familiar from fairy-tale illustrations. Though proudly French, this province speaks a German dialect called Allemanisch and drinks German-inflected Sylvaner, Riesling and Gewürztraminer wines from tall, narrow bottles.
Celebrations revolve around the sweet, cloudy fermenting wine called neia-siassa in Allemanisch. Two big street parties will take place in the village of Barr on the weekend of October 1 to 3, and in nearby Obernai from October 16 to 17. Head for the center of town, which will be blocked off to traffic, then pay a modest 15 francs for a glass and drink your fill while nibbling on nuts, bacon and the onion tarts that are also popular across the border in Germany. Folk music and dancing satisfy the French love of dressing up.
Where to stay and eat The best base is the spectacular medieval town of Colmar. Book a room at the Hostellerie Le Maréchal (011-33-3-89-41-60-32), which is in a fully modernized 16th-century building overlooking the waterways of the town's Little Venice. Alsace has an extraordinary concentration of Michelin-starred restaurants, including Hostellerie La Cheneaudière (011-33-3-88-97-61-64), about 30 miles from Colmar. It has two dining rooms, one haute, the other regional rustic. Booking in advance is essential.
Thirty miles from Colmar, across the German border, is the Black Forest town of Freiburg. Here, as in many of Baden's historic wine villages--which tend to be both better preserved and more receptive to visitors than those in France--people commemorate the harvest with Neuer Wein und Zweibelkuchen (new wine and onion tarts). The heart of Baden's wine country is a volcanic outcrop called the Kaiserstuhl. The village of Achkarren, which has a wine museum that shows historic production methods, will hold a new-wine and harvest celebration from October 1 to 3. Festivals will also be held in Oberrotweil from October 9 to 10 and in Bickensohl from October 30 to 31.
Where to stay and eat Some 60 miles north of Freiburg is the palatial Brenner's Park-Hotel & Spa (011-49-72-21-90-00), where brand-new junior suites are $650 a night. Fifteen miles farther is the Mönchs Posthotel (011-49-70-83-74-40), which was built as a monastery in 1148. The Black Forest has some of Germany's most famous restaurants, including the plush Schwartzwaldstube (011-49-74-42-49-20) in Tonbach, where Harald Wohlfahrt produces elaborate French menus.
A capital city might not seem the most obvious destination for a wine lover, but Vienna is part of a real wine region; the Baroque buildings of this former Hapsburg center are ringed with well-sited vineyards. And then there are the heurigen, inns in the outlying parts of the city that are legally allowed to sell only what they make themselves, whether it's wine in quarter-liter jugs or food. For the heurigen, the year's climax comes in November, with the release of the new wines. But shortly before that, when the Viennese are keen to celebrate the last spell of good weather, the locals also enjoy drinking the fermenting wine, or sturm. The big sturm event will take place from October 16 to 17 in the suburb of Stammersdorf on the Kellergasse, a road that runs between vineyards and is lined with fermentation cellars.
America visitors, who are few, will find themselves shoulder to shoulder with what feels like the whole adult population of Vienna. Here, in the eastern reaches of the German-speaking world, the wine washes down bread, meat, sausage and the herby Liptauer cheese.
Where to stay and eat Members of the Schwarzenberg family still live in the Palais Schwarzenberg (011-43-1-798-4515), an 18th-century Baroque mansion that overlooks a majestic park, though they've turned the best rooms into a hotel. The Restaurant Steirereck, (011-43-1-71-33-168) in another Baroque mansion, specializes in cuisine and wine from the Styria region, in Austria's lush southwest. It also offers tours of the 25,000 bottles in its cellars, most notably Austrian wine and port.
In France, most public grape pressing is strictly for show, but there is one wine that's entirely made in public--vin cuit (cooked wine), produced on the Côte d'Azur from superripe berries. The recipe involves pressing the berries, boiling up the juice with other fruit such as apples and oranges until it's reduced by a third and allowing it to ferment for up to 10 months in large, squat glass bottles with narrow necks called demijohns. This year's supply will be brewed on October 3 in the main square of the little village of Plan-de-la-Tour, about 10 miles from Saint-Tropez. Visitors sample the previous year's vin cuit (it weighs in at a hefty 18 percent alcohol) and eat daubes (slowly simmered meat-and-wine stews) or aioli (garlic mayonnaise) served with salads. The festival is also a celebration of Provençal, the lost language of the troubadours, so if you can't understand the public poetry recitals, it isn't just that your French is rusty.
Where to stay and eat In Plan-de-la-Tour, the family-run Mas des Brugassières hotel (011-33-494-43-72-42) is comfortable by international standards yet in keeping with its rustic setting. Twenty miles inland, in Les Arcs, the Logis du Guetteur (011-33-494-99-51-10) serves Provençal cuisine with an Italian twist (after all, this was the Romans' favorite part of France). It's set in a converted 12th-century fort.
DOURO VALLEY, PORTUGAL
In Portugal's port country, you can stomp on the grapes that will become that year's vintage port. At Quinta de la Rosa, a winery near the town of Pinhão, visitors can join the pickers for the corte, when the group marches up and down in troughs, arms on each other's shoulders, thigh-high in grapes, until the juice is extracted. Traditionally stompers were accompanied by a local band, but these days the music comes from a cassette player. Visitors and locals also play various games, like blindman's bluff, and at the end of the harvest, the vineyard workers at every estate perform a ceremony in which they present the proprietors with a ramo--a cane adorned with vine leaves, flowers, fruit and poems.
Where to stay and eat Quinta de la Rosa (011-351-54-73-22-54), a historic estate, offers bed-and-breakfast accommodations, and guests are invited to join the stomp. The Club Caça e Pesca (011-351-54-73-24-98), with great views of the Doura River and its stupendous landscape, offers local specialties like pork with string beans.
NAPA VALLEY, CALIFORNIA
Every September, the Kiwanis Club of Napa throws the Napa Harvest Festival on the lawn of the Charles Krug winery in St. Helena. For $35 in advance or $40 at the door (proceeds benefit local charities), visitors get a chance to sample the offerings of the valley's scores of restaurants, microbreweries and wineries while being entertained by rhythm and blues bands. Meanwhile, the crush gets underway at Charles Krug, which, like many Napa wineries, encourages visits at this time of year.
Where to stay and eat The Villagio Inn & Spa (800-351-1133), in Yountville, has a Tuscan feel to it--except on the tennis courts. Rooms have fireplaces and high ceilings, and the spa offers stupefyingly soothing treatments, using local ingredients like grapeseed and clay mud. Across the street is Bistro Jeanty (707-944-0103), where Philippe Jeanty cooks perfect renditions of simple French dishes like cassoulet and mussels steamed in Pinot Noir. Also in Yountville, Gordon's Wine Bar & Market Cafe (707-944-8246) serves amazing breakfast and lunch, as well as dinner on Friday nights, to patrons sitting around communal tables.
BAROSSA VALLEY, AUSTRALIA
More than any other Australian region, the Barossa turns the harvest into a public party. The Barossa Valley Vintage Festival is a huge event that runs in odd-numbered years from Easter Monday to the following weekend and winds its way up the valley with a succession of street parties. Descended from Lutheran immigrants who first arrived from Germany in the 1840s, the people of Barossa take pride in showing off their food heritage: there's Mettwurst sausage, dill pickles, chicken soup, local olive oil and a superb range of breads. The small villages are home to a mixture of giant and boutique wine producers--from Penfolds's refinery-like installations in Nuriootpa to Rockford Wines's tiny winery run with 19th-century equipment in Tanunda--and they go all out. The Grant Bruge Winery at Jacobs Creek in Tanunda invites guests to follow the town's German-style oompah band into its vineyards at twilight to pick Shiraz grapes, then stomp them. A prize goes to the group that extracts the most juice.
Where to stay and eat Barossa has many quaint, family-run bed-and-breakfasts. A great one is The Collingrove Homestead (011-618-85-64-20-61), which dates from 1856 and is maintained by Australia's National Trust. This single-story building of local sandstone is decorated with mid-19th-century portraits and furniture. In Tanunda, another old homestead houses the area's top restaurant, The 1918 (011-618-85-63-04-05), which serves modern Australian food and specializes in venison.
Patrick Matthews is a London-based writer and the author of The Wild Bunch (Faber and Faber), which won the Glenfiddich Award for drink book of the year.