I recently checked off a bucket list experience from my ever-growing long list of things to do in Europe. I have been looking for a grape harvest opportunity near me, searching high and low for places in Germany or nearby France. However, they were either too far for me to travel to, too expensive to partake in, or not English-speaking friendly. However, my luck would have me find a wine harvest event not far from me, and it had everything I was looking for, minus the grape stomping. A perfect way to celebrate the start of the Fall season, I didn’t waste time signing up for this cross-cultural community experience in Esslingen am Neckar, Germany.
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Save the Date
For two to three weeks out of the year in Germany, starting approximately the 3rd week of September this year (2023) and depending on the readiness of the grapes for the season, the grape harvest begins. Local Vintners are ready for the grapes to be harvested, and some are willing to enlist the help of volunteers willing to labor the work of winemaking.
I happened upon a Facebook post as I was scrolling through my feed one day and found a post reaching out to folks looking to help harvest grapes along the vineyards of Esslingen am Neckar. I was so excited! It was what I had been looking for!
I reached out to the event organizer of the Facebook Group Page (more on that in a bit), who helped put the experience together for the harvest. The organizer works with a local vintner (the Bader Family) who will typically reach out on the days they will need help. The dates are shared through the Facebook group page, and you can message the event organizer about what dates work for you, if the spots still need to be filled. Once verification of date is accepted, you pay the event organizer a non-refundable fee of $10/person to secure your spot. I thought $10 is very reasonable, considering many other locations will charge a much higher fee.
Set in the backdrop of the beautiful Württemberg region of Germany, around Esslingen am Neckar, the grape plots are scattered throughout the area and neighboring valleys. Most of the grapes grown in the area are smaller plots owned by local families. Therefore, you won’t know exactly what plot of grape fields you’ll be working on until the morning of.
We met the vintner at 8:30 a.m. at the wine-making facility/tasting room/event location. Parking is available and free for those driving. Additionally, there is a train station nearby which you can fast walk, about 10 minutes uphill, to the facility. You will also want to use the bathroom at the facility before leaving for the harvest because there will not be any bathrooms at the vineyards.
Once we met with the vintner, he told us a little bit about the wine facility’s history and background along with the grape plots in the area. We learned that approximately 72 families own plots all over the region that they work with. We also learned about using corks versus turn-closure tops for wine bottles as sometimes the cork will result in fungal infestation which in turn affects the taste of the wine.
Additionally, we also learned how as farmers, they try to prevent the spread of fungus and diseases among the grapes, hoping to mask the scent of the grapes with female pheromones to prevent insects from laying eggs inside the grapes. To my best knowledge, I believe that is what was discussed, apparently I am not a pro for this type of thing, lol. However, it’s certainly apparent to see the knowledge and passion in the farmer’s eyes for wine-making as he discussed these details with us.
After learning the history and some logistics for the day, we were ready to head to the vineyard. You can either carpool with the vintner to the vineyards or take your car and follow them. Since we had a large group, a few families had to drive their vehicles. Also, if leaving early, it may be best to take your car; otherwise, the vintner can tell you what’s best. Word of advice for those who choose to drive their car… drive slowly up the road leading to the plot of grape fields, it can get steep.
After a 5-minute drive to the location, up steep roads overlooking rows and rows of grapevines, we finally reached our destination. The vintner and his sons kindly guided us to the plots that needed to be picked. We brought our own garden gloves to work with; shears and buckets were provided. We started working around 9:30 a.m., clearing out as many grapes from the vines as we could. But, it didn’t happen unless you take photos, right? We took as many photos as we could before, during, and after working.
Full disclosure, the hilly slopes are very steep and sometimes slippery. If you’re afraid of heights, like me, you get used to the slopiness of the hills. It took me a moment to overcome my fear of falling, but it was fine once I learned how to maneuver my feet and legs to work against the slope. Just wear good, non-slip, water-resistant shoes. I actually wore my favorite rain boots, and they were perfect, but good hiking or tennis shoes work fine.
We worked in sections as we cleared the grapes in each row, making sure not to leave any behind. From the vintner, “All grapes must go.” I took a section for myself, clearing grapes on my side and on the other side. Once the rows in that area were cleared, we moved on to the next plot. We were rewarded with wines poured on a plastic cup as we worked, which helped quenched our thirst, lol.
Unlike in the States, where most of the vineyards are on flat land and it’s easier for machines to pick the grapes off the vines, in Europe, where there are more steep, sloped hills, it’s harder for these particular types of machinery to make it up and down the hills. Hence, the reasoning for using manual labor from volunteers or workers. Most farmers in the area will enlist the help of friends and families to help pick these grapes.
We worked tirelessly through the morning, until about 12:30 that afternoon. We really enjoyed cutting the grapes from the vines, and just the experience alone was amazing, along with the view of surrounding Esslingen. We probably harvested two and a half of the largest green container bin, which my husband and I guestimate to be about 1500 Liters? (Please don’t quote us on that, lol).
A Rewarding Experience
After a half day of hard work, we were rewarded with wine and a delicious homemade Swabian lunch made especially by the owner’s wife. Our lunch was a typical local flare of Maultaschen (meat and spinach-filled dumplings either fried or served in broth), fresh brot (bread), and potato salad. It was all delicious! The local wine from TeamWerk was also provided which made the meal that much better.
We also received a bottle of wine for our hard work, which we greatly appreciated. You can find the TeamWerk wine on sale at the local Edeka in Esslingen.
The final reward, the opportunity to partake in such a wonderful opportunity! This is a once-in-a lifetime opportunity! The vintner/owner and his sons were also very kind and knew English well enough to communicate with us. Just their knowledge alone and their kindness was appreciated and I definitely would love to partake in this experience again in the next year!
What to Wear
The morning was pleasantly cold with a nice breeze on the last day of September. However, towards the middle of the day, the sun beat heavily on us and it had gotten a lot warmer. I recommend dressing in layers for this activity. You’ll also want to wear clothes you don’t necessarily care to get dirty or stained. I wore a flannel top with a tank underneath, which I was grateful for. My flannel did get stained by the grape juice, however, the stains came off as soon as I placed it in the wash when I got home.
Shoes-wise, as mentioned above, you’ll want to wear a good non-slip and water-resistant shoes. Sometimes the slopes get slippery when the grass is wet. A good hiking or tennis shoes is recommended. I wore these and they worked perfect!
Bring your garden gloves, preferably heavy-duty water-resistant ones. Cloth gloves will get wet and stained with the grape juice. Also hands will get sticky from the juices of the grapes, so you’ll want to bring wet wipes.
Wear a hat and sunblock. It can get hot and sunny on the hilly slopes. That sun can be brutal.
Bring protein snack and water. Working hard in the vineyards can take a lot of energy out of you, especially under the heat.
Finally, bring a backpack with essentials, such as snacks, water, first aid, tissues (to use the bathroom behind bushes), and extra bags for trash.
Please do not leave any trash behind. These are family plots.
Facebook Group to Follow and Message the Event Organizer: Esslingen Tours, Tastings, and More
Location: Esslingen am Neckar near Stuttgart
Train Station Nearby: S1 to Mettingen
Grape Harvest Season Dates: Usually around the 3rd week of September for 2-3 weeks thereafter, depending on the season and readiness of the grapes. Please utilize the Facebook group page for details concerning the actual dates. This year (2023), harvest was around mid- September to the beginning of October. The last harvest is scheduled for October 5, 2023.
Times: Grape Harvest shifts are from Mondays to Fridays, starting from 8:30 a.m.- and ending when the vineyard is cleared between 1:00 p.m. and 3:00 p.m. Shifts vary by the weather; if the weather is not permissible, the shift will be postponed. Weekend shifts (Saturday) are sometimes available. We finished working and started eating lunch by around 12:30 p.m.
Cost: $10 (USD) per person non-refundable to the event organizer to reserve your spot (can be paid via Zelle or Venmo)
Children six and older are welcome but must be accompanied by parents at all times and must have slip-resistant shoes. Be mindful that there are steep hills and slopes, as well as sharp shears, and tractors.
Disclaimer from the event organizer: You, as a sole individual, upon payment and participating in the grape harvest, must ACCEPT AND ASSUME RESPONSIBILITY FOR ANY RISKS AND DANGERS that could arise out of, or occur during, your participation in the event.
Bring: Backpacks with essentials: snacks/sandwiches/water, water-resistant garden gloves, hand sanitizer or wipes, Kleenex wipes for bathroom needs with extra ziplock bags for trash- don’t forget to remove from your bag as soon as you get home, small first-aid kit with band-aids.
Wear: Dress in layers, wear sunblock and a hat, and be mindful there will be insects flying around. Wear slip and water-resistant shoes (like hiking boots) due to the steep slopes. Wear clothes you don’t mind getting stained.
A once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, this cross-cultural community experience is one to take advantage of. Not only was this hard labor, it was a labor of love for the opportunity to do something I have always wanted to partake in! Not only that, you support a group of local vintners in the area who value and cherish their business of wine-making, while also welcoming any willing volunteers to help harvest their grapes. Additionally, you are treated as family and also given a taste of the local Swabian cuisine. Thank you to the Esslingen Cooperative, Team Werks and the Bader Family, for this experience! It’s an opportunity I will never forget!
If you would like more information, please join the Facebook Group listed above to find more information for next year’s harvest! Until next time friends! Bis zum nächsten Mal Freunde!