Wine Camps

Those are happy campers harvesting Pinot Noir grapes under the Napa sun. Really. Forget the grapes of wrath. In today's wine world, enthusiasts pay for the privilege to learn from the roots up in programs that include sweaty vineyard chores amongst lectures on the science of wine making, and gourmet meals and substitute B&Bs for bunk houses.

Schramsberg Vineyards even dubs its twice-yearly pay-to-pick event for wine lovers (and professionals) Camp Schramsberg ( The fall schedule is arranged so that campers can harvest one of the 80 plots on the 320-acre vineyard at the peak of ripeness. "Campers pick grapes, bring the fruit inside and learn how we process Pinot Noir to make white wines," says the president and winemaker Hugh Davies. "We show them how we make individual lots of wine from different grape varieties."

The spring session is oriented to blending wines. Campers become versed in m├ęthode Champenoise. The vineyard's pros demonstrate riddling (dislodging sediment to the neck of the bottle), disgorging (removing sediment from the bottle) and corking. Individuals learn to add the proper dosage of sugar to their own bottles, a kind of "diploma" to add to their home cellars.

Faculty at the Culinary Institute of America's Greystone campus, in St. Helena, California, also give seminars that illustrate how bubbly (Schramsberg primarily makes sparkling wines) pairs with various foods. Needless to say, tired campers dine well.

Nine vineyards on Long Island's North Fork (along with area bed-and-breakfasts) have designed a "grape to bottle" wine camp, which is offered several times each year (

The four-day curriculum involves campers in seasonal vineyard activities. They can learn about Long Island terroir at Paumanok Vineyards. Harvesting or vine pruning might be scheduled at the Old Field Vineyards in Southold. At Cutchogue's Peconic Bay Vineyards, winemaker Greg Gove schools campers in wine making's biochemistry.

"I demystify the subject," says Gove. He adds that campers do pay attention during his two-hour presentation. "And they'll quiz me about yeast and malolactic fermentation and about tannins." During an autumn camp, Eric Fry, of the Lenz Winery & Vineyard in Peconic, leads a class that explores the relationship of old vines to older vintages. In the spring blending season, teams of campers are challenged with creating a bottle of wine from differently aged Chardonnay wines and blending a Bordeaux-style red from Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot grapes, an exercise that sometimes leads to argument. Fry notes dryly, "There's a reason why each vineyard has only one winemaker."

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