My husband and I love wine (especially when it is under $10 a bottle)
We started out just after college, going to wine festivals. The Mt. Vernon Wine Festival, held in the spring and the fall each year in Virginia, is one of our favorites. Then we started to visit area stores to compare wines and try some varieties: Trader Joe's, Whole Foods, Daily Planet, and Costco all have decent wines to offer at good prices in the northern Virginia area. Then we moved up to actually visiting some of the wineries. We've been to about 20 Virginia wineries, and even attended three special events/dinners. I believe that many states are mobilizing to create one-stop websites with festival and tour information; Virginia certainly has a nice program that has helped us to find many fine wineries by using the grape-cluster signs that have been scattered across the state.
Now, we're dipping our toe into the industry and actually starting to help out. For the wine enthusiasts reading this, listen up. There are some nice opportunities out there.
First, many of the wineries need local help at the wine festivals. I believe that just about every state in the USA has wine and food festivals going on, so the opportunity is there. Just yesterday, I helped our favorite Virginia winery, Rockbridge, pour at Great Grapes, Reston.
This was an absolute blast, and in exchange for helping out all day, I got some bottles of wine. You can't beat that deal! (And, as it rained all day, I can tell you that pouring under the tent is a lot better than being an attendee waiting in line outside the tent.)
Second, many of the smaller wineries/vineyards need help during those few critical days of picking each season. Often, they'll "pay" in grapes, wine, or first-pick on used barrels (which are relatively hot commodities, as they are soooo coooool.) I know that Willowcroft Farm Vineyards operates in this way, and probably others.I know that many people tend to turn up their noses at non-Californian American wine, but if you are looking for some hidden treasures, and a chance to be more than just a customer, I recommend checking out some smaller, local wineries. If you want to go a little bit more mainstream, you really can't go wrong with some of the bigger ones, either. As my friend Maki once said, "I've never had a bad Shiraz"