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For Your Next Vacation, Work the Harvest!

For Your Next Vacation, Work the Harvest!

A Napa wineries before harvest (photo by Chef's Blade editor)

Leona Taylor | Chef's Blade

Exotic work vacations and leisurely cultural stays in foreign countries may seem like a concept from another time these days, but there are still a select few countries which offer just such an escape from troubled times. For as little as the cost of a plane ticket you could be in harvesting grapes in Bordeaux, France or chillin in the cellar with a winemaker down in Patagonia. Here in the Napa Valley, the harvest offers a chance to meet and share valuable information with winery interns and exchange workers from all over the world.

Many of my first friends in wine country were harvest interns. They were a small fun group of interns from Chile, France, New Zealand, Germany, and Australia who naturally bonded over their discoveries in California. Most of these interns have gone on to become well-respected winemakers, some in America and some back in their respective homes. Their experiences inspired many of us in Napa to go abroad and do the same.

While friends went to New Zealand and Australia, I chose to stay closer to home in Napa working harvest at Mondavi’s Pinot Noir facility in Carneros in 2004. Harvest is hard work, the experiences of living abroad may be joyous, but the hours and hard physical labor are enough to keep away most. For anyone with a little interest, however, the rewards run deep.

Many wineries provide some form of housing or low cost living for their interns. Harvest lunches, dinners, and occasional late night parties are all part of the harvest experience. Overtime due to the unpredictable and often constant nature of the harvest can be lucrative. For those choosing to go abroad, expect to cover your expenses. For those staying close to home you may be able to enjoy a real January vacation with the dollars you save while working for three months straight.

Grapes are not the only harvest to work, but the fermentation experience provides a real draw. The opportunity to see a product through and to craft it into something special is what keeps the wine industry musically humming; and the hard manual labor of people from all over the world is what makes it succeed. In the end harvest is a sensory and overall experiential type of work, the kind of work you wear on your hands and feel in your bones just as the grapes start to flower. What you take away is a sense of place, a valuable skill set, and, if you’re lucky, some great bottles of wine.

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