Harvest is underway in the Yakima Valley, and with it is the anticipation of the next vintage.
You can celebrate the season with the experts during Catch the Crush weekend on Oct. 12-13. Nearly 40 wineries invite guests to tour vineyards, enjoy harvest and crush activities, stomp in barrels, and wine and dine all weekend long.
The best approach to navigating this event is preparation. Here are some tips to help you get the most out of the harvest experience from start to finish:
■ Do your research. Log into websites for Wine Yakima Valley and the Rattlesnake Hills Wine Trail and preview what wineries are offering during the event weekend.
■ Find your focus. You may be interested in activities at the winery or in the vineyard. Or you may want to focus on process, from grape to bottle. Choose a theme that will underscore the wines you taste and the activities you enjoy.
■ Get into the vineyard. The first step in the wine harvest is the grape. Barrel Springs Winery in Prosser is offering an opportunity to get your feet dusty and taste grapes right off the vine. Kitzke Cellars in West Richland is offering a blind taste-test of five grape varietals. Taste and compare to the final product.
■ Stomp grapes.Who doesn’t love the idea of crushing wine grapes with their feet? The foot is actually the perfect natural machine for crushing grapes. The pressure from human force is gentle enough so that the seeds won’t break, causing a release of a less-than-ideal astringent taste in the wine. Several wineries offer this once-a-year opportunity during the weekend. Check in with Wilridge Winery, VanArnam Vineyards and Airfield Estates Winery on when and how you can jump in (feet first) and crush grapes.
■ Learn and taste the fermentation process. Thurston Wolfe Winery in Prosser will offer tasting fermentation products and comparing them to wine in the bottle. Hightower Cellars is also offering tastes from fermentation, barrel aging, bottle aging and long-term cellar aging.
■ Follow the journey of the grape. Yakima Valley Vintners’ teaching winery in Grandview is offering tours of the winery and crush pad. Taste grapes off the vine and compare them to wine in the bottle. A visit to Terra Blanca Winery on Red Mountain will guide you through the entire winemaking process, starting with tasting grapes right off the vines and moving to tasting crushed juice on the crush pad. You will see and learn about the fermentation process and taste the juices as they transform into wine. Next, visit the barrel caves where you will taste wine as it ages. The tour will finish with a seated tasting of the final product from the bottle.
■ Build your itinerary. Pick up or download a winery roadmap at any participating winery so you can create your touring itinerary based on the activities you are most interested in.
■ If you really want to dive in on learning, consider the Winemaker’s Table program. It’s the perfect opportunity to enjoy the Yakima Valley’s intimate harvest festivities with winemakers. Four winemakers have reserved time exclusively for Winemaker’s Table guests. Each has personally selected a harvest activity and tasting opportunities of their best wines, allowing guests to learn the history, nuances and stories of each wine in an intimate seated tasting. In addition to these smaller, more intimate tasting experiences, your Winemaker’s Table ticket will be honored as a Premier Pass to all participating wineries for the duration of the Catch the Crush event weekend.
• Barbara Glover is executive director of Wine Yakima Valley, an industry group representing member wineries.