Want to visit wine country? The best time to visit is during harvest for 3 reasons: the weather is a little cooler, the grapes are ripe and everywhere is bustling with activity. Wine harvest season takes place for about 2 months each year because wine grapes ripen at different rates. If you hope to visit during harvest, why not go when your favorite wines are being made? By the way, if you plan on going to Napa Valley, be prepared for heavy traffic.
When is Grape Harvest Season?
The Wine Harvest (Northern Hemisphere)
August – October
February – April
The exact dates vary with every vintage.
Wine Harvest Season Chart
How do grape growers know when to harvest?
The best wine growers are so familiar with the taste of ripeness that they can walk down a row tasting grapes and know intuitively when to pick. However, there is a fair amount of science to back this up. Just so you know, timing the harvest is the single most important decision a grower or winemaker makes each year.
Wine grapes are much sweeter than table grapes. This is an important distinction because the sweetness level determines the resulting alcohol level. Sweetness comes from sucrose in grapes and is measured in Brix.
For example, Cabernet Sauvignon in Napa Valley picked at around 26-27 Brix makes a wine that has about 14.5% ABV. In Bordeaux, ripeness is generally closer to 24 Brix, making an alcohol level of about 13.5% ABV. Learn about alcohol in wine
There are many advanced tools for measuring Brix, but the most commonly known tool is a hydrometer. Vineyard managers will check every week leading to the harvest, and sometimes every day, to harvest each part of their vineyard at the right moment. In a poor vintage, rains cause grapes to swell and ruin the careful balance of sweetness and acidity.
A grape can be sweet, but that doesn’t mean it’s ripe enough. Physiological ripeness means the other parts of the grape (the seeds, skin and stems) are also ripe. The seeds will taste less bitter and change color from green to yellowish. This change makes the resulting wine tannin taste sweeter. Tannin is known to affect a wine’s finish or aftertaste.
Ever Want to Work the Harvest?
Depending on where you live, you may have the opportunity to help during the harvest. For instance, during the harvest in Napa Valley, there are so many vineyards wanting to pick grapes on the same day that wineries are often understaffed. This is especially difficult for wineries that do hand harvesting. If you volunteer, you have more freedom to come and go as you please. Harvesting wine grapes could just be one of the most rewarding workouts of your life.
If you want to work a harvest and get paid, you’ll have to find temporary seasonal labor work and plan on living in the area for about 6-8 weeks. Here are a few reputable sites offering harvest jobs in the US:
- Wine Jobs on Winebusiness (search ‘Harvest Help’)
- Venjobs through UC Davis (you’ll need some experience)
- Occasional wine intern positions in Oregon are on oregonstate.edu
- Search through regional associations in Washington for harvest jobs here washingtonwine.org
- Another resource for Washington wine jobs wine.wsu.edu