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Want to Get Dirty in the Name of Wine? Here’s How to Help with This Year’s Harvest

Grape harvest season is just around the corner, and if you didn’t know, this is the make-or-break perennial stretch for scores of winemakers. In the northern hemisphere, the harvest tends to fall in September and October, meaning producers are presently looking to finalize their staff to make sure they have enough helping hands when the first truckload of fruit arrives.

Mark Stock/The Manual

Whether you’re formally interested in an actual position or casually interested in observing the culture, here are three ways to get involved during the 2019 vintage.

Consider an Internship

There are countless tales of folks giving up their day jobs and joining the wine realm full-time after working a harvest (which can be pretty backbreaking at times). An internship is a great way to immerse yourself in the trade and often requires little more than a good work ethic and some stamina.

Mark Stock/The Manual

The harvest window is about eight weeks and most entry-level positions involve repetitive tasks like pumping over tanks or analyzing samples (checking sugar levels, pH, etc.). But it’s wildly engaging, as every ferment behaves differently and every winemaker has his or her own philosophy. It’s an amazing time to see an artist at work and if you’re lucky enough to work at a smaller label, you’ll learn loads from the cellar crew. Even if you don’t come away with a new career in mind, you may have the tools to make some wine at home or at least have a better understanding of how the stuff comes to be.

What’s more, there are wine regions in amazing places all over the globe. You can leverage your interest and ability to work long days to transport you to places like New Zealand, Croatia, South Africa, and the Okanagan. Resources like winebusiness.com are great for domestic gigs while sites like WWOOF offer international opportunities.

Sort or Sample Fruit

During the lead up to harvest, many wineries will send people out to collect fruit samples. That means walking sunbaked vineyard rows with a bag in hand, grabbing random grape berries and ultimately testing the juice. It’s a great way to walk through some pretty private property as well as get a glimpse at what kind of wine the winemaking year might produce.

Mark Stock/The Manual

As harvest sets in, grape-sorting is another great option. It’s a pretty simple task that one could do for a weekend afternoon in exchange for a hearty harvest lunch or special rates on wines. Sorters weed out unwanted fruit, from unripe or diseased clusters to leaves and other debris. You can wear your juice-stained hands like a proud badge and experience the excitement as winemakers get their first real look at the vintage.

Spectator Sport

If you don’t feel like getting your hands dirty, simply enjoy a tasting at a working winery and observe all of the action. The activity is highly entertaining, from the loading and unloading of half-ton fruit bins via forklift to barrel repair and punch-downs, there’s plenty of stimulation. And there’s nothing quite like the smell of freshly fermenting wine.

Mark Stock/The Manual

Collaborative wineries like Carlton Winemakers Studio in the Willamette Valley or the incubators at the airport in Walla Walla are great options. Here, you can enjoy a smattering of wines made in-house while you witness those very winemakers working on the newest batch. Tasting room personnel can add detail to what you’re observing, from the next round of press loads to wine racking. And if you can’t make it out to wine country, take in harvest from the comfort of home through the blogosphere or an interesting wine personality.

Just remember to be courteous and inquire first about any and all roles with the wineries themselves. Producers vary greatly in size and approachability but it never hurts to inquire — via email, social media, phone, or in person — to see how you might be able to lend a hand.

Keep in mind that harvest means a ton of activity, from slow tractors on country roads to forklifts scurrying in and out of busy urban cellars. Be mindful of equipment and closed-off areas.

Mark Stock
Mark Stock is a writer from Portland, Oregon. He fell into wine during the Recession and has been fixated on the stuff since…
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