The end of wine harvest each fall is a time for celebration. And you're invited to the fun.
Wineries around the country spend much of the year tending to vines, worrying about the weather, and many 18-plus-hour days quickly picking the grapes to start the wine-making process. Many cap off that hectic process with a big bash – and it's the perfect time to visit.
You don't have to be a wine expert to enjoy the tastings, paired dinners, live music, grape stomping competitions, and more. Go with an open mind, ask lots of questions, and make it your own adventure.
Here are some of the best spots around the country to join the festivities this fall.
Getting There & Where to Stay
No matter where you go, most of these festivals will be in smaller cities or the countryside, far from the urban centers and big airport hubs. So instead of flying directly into a tiny regional airport (which will likely be expensive), snag a flight deal to a nearby airport and rent a car for cheap. Check out Turo for a fun and money-saving alternative.
Start looking at Airbnb now to find a good spot near all of the action. But where should you look? We're glad you asked.
Thrifty Tip: Sign up for Thrifty Traveler and start getting the cheapest domestic flight deals every day, including flights to some of these regions.
The Finger Lakes, New York
Finger Lakes Harvest Celebration Sept. 14-15
Over four hours by car from New York City, this wine region is a little more difficult to get to. It's worth looking into flying into Buffalo (BUF) or Rochester (ROC) which will get you closer. Either way, you'll need to hop in a car.
You'll be rewarded with an unpretentious and lesser-known (but growing) wine region, surrounded by the pristine Finger Lakes, waterfalls, hiking, and much more.
Commercial wine production in the Finger Lakes goes back to the 1860s. Today, there are more than 100 wineries surrounding the lakes, growing mainly Riesling, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Franc. But you'll find a bit of everything to sip on here, including some great sparkling and dessert wines.
But the biggest draw about visiting the Finger Lakes is that it's set up extremely for tourists. The Finger Lakes Wine Country has all of the information you need on where to stay, wine trail maps, tips on the best ways to tour, and even recommended transportation companies for rental cars, drivers, or limos.
Thrifty Tip: Have a friend that's not super into wine but loves to travel? There is also a Finger Lakes Beer Trail with over 100 breweries and more than a dozen distilleries. Oh, and a Chocolate Trail, too.
Walla Walla, Washington
Walla Walla Fall Release Weekend
Take it from me: This is one of the biggest and best wine events you'll find in the fall.
I worked at Long Shadows Vintners for harvest in 2011 and helped pour wine during the Fall Release Weekend. Nearly all of the 100-plus wineries open their doors and pour free tastings of newly released wines. Add in cozy downtown Walla Walla, with lots of great restaurants and shops, and you'll be sold.
Thrifty Tip: Fly into Seattle (SEA) and take your time driving to Walla Walla. There are a lot of great wineries and breweries in the Yakima Valley along the way.
On top of that, there are all kinds of winemaker dinners, art shows, live music, and more! You can taste Chardonnay, Pinot Grigio, Sauvignon Blanc, lots of Merlot and Cabernet, and everything in between. The wineries are pretty spread out so take some of the money you're saving on tastings and hire a driver or bring along a sober friend that won't mind driving you around.
Carlton Crush Harvest Festival
Pinot Noir is the name of the game in the Willamette Valley (pronounced Willamette, damn it!), along with some Pinot Gris and Chardonnay.
Enjoy the day-long festival, which includes a grape stomping competition, live music, food stands, and even beer! Then take advantage of all of the great wineries nearby or tack on an extra day and spend it in Portland (only 50 minutes away) before you fly out.
Thrifty Tip: If this weekend doesn't work for you there are events happening here every weekend throughout the fall. Check out the Oregon Wine event calendar for wine dinners, concerts, art showings and more!
Sonoma County, California
Sonoma County Harvest Fair, Santa Rosa
To get your wine on in one of the country's biggest hotspots, you'll have to pay for it.
This Sonoma County Harvest Fair is one of the more expensive events out there, but there are a few big factors that could make it worth it.
For starters, you'll have the chance to taste wines from over 100 wineries all in one spot! So there's no need to worry about hopping from place to place or having a driver for the day. There's also food from dozens of local purveyors to help sop up some of the alcohol.
Thrifty Tip: Make it a long weekend and enjoy a day or two in San Francisco before or after the fair. San Francisco (SFO) is also the perfect spot to fly into.
Bringing Wine Home
You can't go to wine country without bringing some spoils home. You've got a few options.
The easiest way is to ask right at the winery if they ship to your state. It may be a little more expensive than paying to check your bag, but then you don't have to worry about the extra baggage. There are a lot of confusing laws and regulations about shipping wine and they vary from state to state, so don't be too disappointed if they can't ship to you.
If you only want to bring a few bottles home then putting them in your checked luggage is the easy way to go. Mr. TT and I have done this many times and haven't ended up with a broken bottle yet. If you want to be extra cautious bring some bubble wrap with you, and use that instead of your clothes to wrap the bottles. Just be sure you've got a credit card that gets you a free checked bag on your airline!
If you are extra serious you can buy luggage specifically to check wine bottles. At $350 or more, it's not cheap – so only go this route if you plan on using it multiple times.
Lastly, check if the wines are distributed in your state by asking at the winery. If they are, your local wine shop should be able to special order some of your favorite bottles as long as they aren't sold exclusively at the winery.
Thrifty Tip: Fly home on Alaska Airlines from the West Coast and check your wine for free! Just join Alaska Airlines Mileage program and follow these rules and your wine will arrive home safely and for free.
A fall wine festival is a perfect excuse for a weekend getaway! Start looking for flight deals now and check out some of these awesome destinations.