By Tom Bender

This year’s grape harvest has been a good one, and as the long days and nights for winemakers comes into the home stretch, it is time to celebrate the prospects of a great vintage!

Last year’s rain brought some normality to the growing season and, even with an uneven spring weather situation, the grapes appeared to be of terrific quality in most cases.

That being said, vineyard managers and winemakers can see light at the end of their long seasonal tunnel. As the last of the grapes come off the vines, there is still plenty of early morning and late night activity at wineries.

Bins or tanks filled with fermenting red grapes need to be punched or pumped over several times a day until the end of the fermentation process. Punching refers to manually pushing the rising fermenting cap back into the juice in smaller fermentation units, while larger wineries use pumps to move the juice on the bottom to wet the top cap. There is the constant cleaning of equipment, tanks and barrels, which seems to never end. Coupled with grapes being ready at different times for pressing or racking (transferring) wine from tank to tank and eventually to barrels, many winery workers are exhausted by now.

But this work is laced with excitement over the future wines, and the winemaking community is ready to celebrate their bountiful harvest. From family and helper gatherings to winery dinners for patrons or large-scale regional events, it is a wonderful time to share the bounty and excitement with others.

On a more personal note, a number of wineries feature harvest celebrations for their loyal supporters.

For the past eight years, Four Winds Winery near Vallecito has hosted a harvest party in early October for Cellar Club members. Their winemaker, John Gibson, talks to members about the harvest this year including winery production and news from the vineyard along with fall seasonal dishes, ample Four Winds wine, and a favorite local band. This event always fills quickly.

Later in the month, from 4 to 7 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 29, Hovey Wines in Murphys will have its harvest celebration featuring the sounds of Jill Warren and the tasty pizzas of Old Skool Pies.

And it is not limited to wineries. Indigeny Reserve in Tuolumne County, our local premium hard cider and apple brandy producers, have their sixth annual harvest celebration slated for this coming Saturday. Join them for a full day of activities including live music, hay rides, family games, wood fired pizzas, a corn maze and pumpkin patch along with hard cider tasting and a chance to check out the newly released flavored Porch Light vodkas.

Others try to show appreciation to staff members for all the hard work going on at harvest time.

“When time allows, I enjoy barbecuing during the harvest season,” said Steve Millier, winemaker and owner of Milliaire Cellars and Black Sheep Winery in Calaveras County. “It is a hectic time, but also a time to gather together around the table with friends and family to celebrate and enjoy the fruits of our labor. My favorite barbecue is a Zinfandel-marinated tri-tip roast.” I shared Steve’s recipe below.

This sounds much more inviting than the daily crock-pot routine several winemakers have to resort to because of the ongoing long days and lack of time to cook, much less sleep.

In Amador County, a number of wineries also do annual harvest parties for staff and helpers that have become a tradition and way of saying thank you.

“We do a post-bottling and pre-harvest party for our staff every year in late August that features an array of foods prepared by my wife and resident chef, Jane O’Riordan,” said Bill Easton, winemaker and owner of Domaine Terre Rouge Winery in the Shenandoah Valley. “Everything is cooked in our wood oven, from pizzas and Andouille sausages to chicken thighs with fresh rosemary.”

Bill also mentioned they opened several special bottles of wine and had plenty of beer on hand.

That seems to be a common thread among winemakers at harvest. “It takes a lot of good beer to make great wine this time of year!”

Have a happy harvest!

Milliare Zinfandel Marinated Tri Tip Roast

2 1/2 cups of Milliaire Old Vine Zinfandel

8 garlic cloves, crushed

2 tablespoons black pepper

2 tablespoons soy sauce

2 tablespoons red wine vinegar

1 onion chopped

3 tablespoons salt

5 bay leaves

1/4 cup fresh rosemary leaves

Pinch dried oregano

Pinch dried basil

3 to 3.5-pound tri-tip roast

Combine all ingredients in a large bowl. Place the roast in the bowl and completely submerge the meat in the marinade. Refrigerate for 3 to 5 days (the meat must be completely

submerged in the marinade for optimum tenderness).

Preheat the grill. Remove the tri-tip from the marinade, pat dry and season with salt and pepper. Grill for 10 to 15 minutes on each side or until cooked medium-rare. Let rest for 10 minutes and cut into 1/4-inch slices.