How to Cook a Harvest Feast Like a Winemaker
After the last grapes have been picked, winery workers gather to break bread and celebrate the vineyard's bounty.
On my family’s vineyard in Napa, the grape harvest always comes in with a rush. Picking days roll into nights, leaving little time for rest. But as the rhythm of the harvest slows, we’re able to pay more attention to sustenance. Long hours of hard work and sandwiches wolfed down at lunchtime pave the way for intentionally set tables and expansive meals cooked to feed a crowd. Such celebratory harvest meals are a tradition everywhere wine is made. It’s a ritual and a rhythm worth bringing home. This fall, set your harvest table with recipes that satisfy hunger and nourish the soul, gathered from vineyard feasts around the world.
Braised Duck Legs with Spaetzle and Mushroom Ragout
In the Old World, harvest meals formed around foods that were available locally in autumn and became firmly linked over hundreds of years: In Germany’s Baden wine region, on the edge of the Black Forest, poultry are preserved in their rich fat around harvest time. My grandfather lived near there when white wines dominated the area, but over the past two decades, some of the most beautiful Pinot Noirs in the world have emerged from the Baden region. Any Spätburgunder (the German word for the grape) produced by J.B. Becker or Franz Keller would rock with this dish. The sensuality of their Pinot Noirs plays beautifully with the umami of the mushrooms, and high-toned brightness from fresh acidity makes a direct hit on the richness of the duck and adds a two-step to the flavor dance in your mouth.
Maria Alfonso from Finca Volvoreta in the Toro region of Spain visited Napa to talk with me about biodynamic farming. Instead, we spent most of our time talking about vegetable gardens and the best Bomba rice for paella. So intense was the conversation that she ran out to her car and returned with a kilo of paella rice that she swore was the best! It turns out she had hauled it from Spain and was just waiting to give it to someone who was as passionate about rice as she is. Alfonso uses all the vegetables in her garden—zucchini, peppers, toma- toes, and eggplant—for her paella, which she serves at harvest time. Pair it with the 2018 Bigardo Tinta de Toro from Kiko Calvo or another youthful Spanish red full of black and purple fruits with an underlying earthiness.
Lentil and Bean Stew with Gremolata
The vineyard crew at Ulivi in Piedmont, Italy, is made up of a mix of families and interns passionate about biodynamic farming. When my family arrived for a recent visit, our kids quickly ran off with a gaggle of others to play in the forest. Dirty and sweaty, we gathered at a long table to eat a harvest lunch of farro salad and bean stew, made from vegetables grown on the estate and surrounding farms. Hunger ele- vates any meal, but the texture of the grains and sweetness of roots soaking up the broth from an earthy stew of chickpeas and lentils made this a particularly satisfying dish. To pair with this stew, try Cascina degli Ulivi’s IVAG, which will gratify all those natural wine lovers jonesing for the slightly sour pucker of grapes left to ferment guided only by their wits. Minimal intervention is key.
Canterbury, New Zealand
I found most of the food in New Zealand to be no-nonsense and delicious, delivered with a good sense of humor, much like the wines. My favorite harvest meal, served at Mountford Estate in Waipara, was efficient and brilliant, running directly along the lines of an English ploughman’s lunch, which makes up for its simplicity with stunning abundance. Sitting at the table, we were confronted with a massive mound of grilled sausages; a smart set of grainy, spicy mustards; sweet chutneys; and a good-sized wheel of farmstead cheese from down the road. A leafy, vinegar-sparked salad and good bread rounded out the feast, alongside an elegant Chardonnay like the 2016 The Boneline Barebone, light on its feet but not in flavor—sparking citrus notes are key to its success on a hot day.