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HARVEST IS a special time for wineries, when grapes arrive and their juices become elixirs that can simultaneously slake our dinnertime thirst and our need for knowledge.

Somehow, wine can taste just a little better when you know the story behind it, whether it’s where the grapes came from, why the winemaker chose this profession or what the struggles of the vintage brought.

And your perception of wine will change dramatically if you choose to get your hands dirty and get involved. Even if it’s for a couple of hours, sorting grapes and learning the process of transforming them into liquid sunshine can forever alter the way you view a glass of wine.

Fortunately, many small wineries welcome guests to come during harvest to watch how it’s done or even participate. And if you’re willing to head across the Cascades in October, the Yakima Valley puts on a festival that celebrates the arrival of the magical fruit.

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Let’s start with a few ways you can get your hands on some grapes — literally. Do you have a favorite Washington winery? If it’s a smaller producer, chances are the owner would love to have you help. You could sort grapes, help wash barrels or learn how to “punch down the cap” — a task that must be done multiple times each day during fermentation.

To find out if a winery needs help, simply call or email. Some wineries keep lists of fans interested in volunteering and broadcast an email when they have work to do.

Not sure whom to call? Patterson Cellars invites wine lovers from noon to 5 p.m. every weekend during harvest to come out and spend an hour or two getting their hands sticky. The winery moved from Monroe to Woodinville’s Warehouse District in 2007 and now crushes grapes for 20 other wineries. Harvest should be in full swing by the second week of September and continue until nearly Halloween. Want to join the fray? Call 425-483-8600 or email

In fact, if it’s purple feet you seek, Patterson will host its Crush & Sip event from noon to 5 p.m. Oct. 25. You can stomp some grapes and make them wine. Lucille Ball would be so proud of you.

If you’re interested in a complete wine-country harvest experience, head east over Snoqualmie Pass, where nearly all the grapes in Washington are grown. The Yakima Valley is celebrating its 30th year as an American Viticultural Area with its annual Catch the Crush Festival. On Oct. 12 and 13, wineries will be open for tastings, grape stomps, food and live music.

For more info about Catch the Crush, go to .

Autumn is a beautiful time to explore Washington wine country. You’ll experience the romance of harvest, learn a bit more about the winemaking process and have amazing stories to share.

Andy Perdue is a wine journalist, author and international judge. Learn more about wine at

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