Once you've visited wine country at the peak of harvest -- when the air is fragrant with fresh grapes and the vineyard workers and cellar rats are in full combat mode -- you'll never want to go at any other time of the year. It's just too anticlimactic.
That's why harvest, or crush as it's called in the industry, is the most popular time to tour wine regions in California, New York, Oregon, Washington and many other states.
Harvest times in America's wine regions vary widely, ranging from early August for sparkling wine to mid-November for late-harvest wines. The 2003 harvest in many areas is several weeks later than it has been in recent years, so that means there should be plenty of crush activity through September and well into October.
If you're planning on a visit during harvest, be prepared for bigger-than-usual crowds in regions such as Napa and Sonoma valleys in California, where tours are sometimes offered on the hour. Smaller producers may not have official tours, but at many places, if you take a few steps to either side of the tasting table, you'll often see the winery's inner workings just the same.
At this time of the year, a few wineries offer special tours aimed at wine-savvy tourists who want an in-depth look at harvest. We've gathered a cross-section of those wineries and organized them by region.
And just as they do in agricultural communities around the world, the winegrowers of the United States celebrate harvest with more than just long days and hard work. They celebrate with harvest festivals and grape stomps and more. We've pulled together a list from key regions.
So there you have it. The wine harvest has officially begun.