The crowds have left, tour buses are down to a trickle, and it's harvest season. There's no better time to visit Sonoma.

By Jenna Scatena
September 15, 2015
West Wines
Credit: Courtesy of West Wines

Fall is the best time for a wine trip to Sonoma: The summer crowds are gone, the bulky tour buses streaming through the area have reduced to a trickle, and the annual grape harvest has begun. But what truly makes the fall better than any other time of year to go are several special excursions that give you the chance to learn about wine—not just taste it—in a fun, immersive setting.

One of the best places to get in on the action is Sonoma’s Wine Road, a vineyard-strewn route in Northern Sonoma that boasts an array of experiential offerings. In addition to the many events on offer for September’s Wine Month series, October will feature a special harvest party and a pig roast at Martinelli Winery (see the full calendar here).

During West Wines’s harvest hikes (pictured), oenophiles can sample chardonnay grapes plucked from the vines during a vineyard walk, as well as learn how to perform sugar and pH tests with their field equipment. Vintners divulge the secrets to a successful harvest along the hike, and the important nuances that lead to an award-winning bottle of Cab. Of course, wine is waiting for you at the end of the journey. The next hikes coming up are September 26 and October 3. Book your spot in advance here.

Wannabe vintners can live out their wine life fantasy for four days at the Grape Leaf Inn’s first harvest wine camp. The newly renovated property has transformed this turn-of-the-century Queen Anne-style bed and breakfast into a modern country chic inn. During camp, lend a hand in every part of the wine-making process: pick the grapes, crush them, mix them into smooth balanced blends, and drink them (naturally). Winemaker lunches, dinners, and seminars are also part of the program. The camp runs from September 28 to October 1; reserve a spot here.

Celebrate the new vintage of chardonnays, pinot noirs, and inky cabs at Merriam Vineyards by touring their “crush pad” during the peak of harvest season. You will learn about how their Bordeaux varieties are produced, and get a sneak peek at what the winemakers are currently working on. Plan a visit here.

Jenna Scatena is on the San Francisco Bay Area beat for Travel + Leisure. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram.