Pumpkin spice is nice, but the real unsung star of fall is wine. Lest you forget that harvest season is upon us, we’ve put together a guide to some of the world’s best wine regions and their traditions from harvest to new vintage tastings.
NAPA VALLEY, CA
Harvest has wrapped in Northern California’s most famous wine valley, and it was a near-perfect growing season. With ideal weather conditions, 2016 Napa wines are predicted to be a stellar vintage. Napa Valley vintners kicked off the season how they always do: with a toast to and blessing of the grapes. Many wineries also create specialized t-shirts each year for the “crush” teams, the ones getting their hands dirty and making it all happen. And even though the grapes are off the vines now, the fun hasn’t stopped in the valley. Fall colors are in bloom all over the vineyards, creating a picture-perfect backdrop for wine tasting. For something outside the usual tasting, drop by Velo Vino for a post-Thanksgiving brunch — nothing tops off turkey better than wine.
LA VENDIMIA, SPAIN
Wine harvest in Spain is called la vendimia (which also occurs in Chile and Argentina in March), and festivals to celebrate were held throughout September. The Vendimia festival in Jerez de la Frontera, one of the most prominent regions for sherry, is widely hailed as the most important. More than just a sweet after-dinner drink, sherry from Jerez comes in a huge range of varieties from dry and light to the prototypical sweet and creamy. In the Catalonia region, cava is the specialty — Spain’s bubbly, delicious answer to French champagne. Cava Week is celebrated in early October, but anytime in fall is prime to sip some sparkles.
While Americans typically think the fourth Thursday is the most important in November, the French have a different tradition: the third Thursday each November marks the first release of Beaujolais Nouveau wine, and it’s heralded in with the fanfare it deserves. French law dictates that the wine be released precisely at 12:01 a.m., and towns throughout the Beaujolais region celebrate with fireworks, music, and festivals. The most famous celebration is Les Sarmentelles, held in Beaujeu, the capital of the region. Lasting for five days, you’ll find tastings of all 12 varietals of the Beaujolais wine, music and dancing, and a torch-lit parade. There are over 100 other celebrations of the wine’s release throughout the region — the wine is meant to be drunk young and is exported all over the world, so be on the lookout to pick up a bottle after November 17 — even if you’re not lucky enough to be in France.
WILLAMETTE VALLEY, OR
Just outside Portland, the Willamette Valley is famed for its pinot noir — sharing approximately the same latitude as Bordeaux in France, it’s in good company. Harvest season is celebrated with festivals all fall, and the friendly folks in this valley have a particular affinity for Thanksgiving. Taste new wines (and old favorites) at Wine Country Thanksgiving, a tradition for over 30 years. Over 150 wineries participate with special tastings and food pairings, not to mention music and parties to celebrate and sip the newly released vintage.