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Cascade Foothills Winegrowers host the first Hands on Harvest Tour from Sept. 1 to Oct. 31.

COURTESY PHOTO: CASCADE FOOTHILLS WINEMAKERS - Members of the Cascade Foothills Winegrowers recently gathered for an annual winemaker potluck. CFW is kicking off September and October with its Hands on Harvest Tour education initiative.To many, making wine is a mysterious and romantic endeavor. And for your typical wine consumer, it's hard to get answers to winemaking questions: How do they decide when to pick the grapes? Do they have a recipe? Why use a cork instead of a screwcap?

Eager to share their knowledge about harvesting grapes and crafting wine, the 15 winemakers in the Cascade Foothills Winegrowers are hosting the first Hands on Harvest Tour from Sept. 1 to Oct. 31.

And to make the learning memorable, they created a workbook with information on the history of winemaking, general grape facts and current techniques used at each winery.

Sold for $39 at CascadeFoothillsWines.com or in their tasting rooms, the workbook is a ticket (for two) to visit these small, artisan wineries and vineyards during the exciting, chaotic, messy and exhilarating time of year — harvest and crush. The workbook includes tasting for two people (or similar deal) at each winery along with discounts on wine.

"Winemaking decisions start with winter pruning, run all the way to choosing the release date of a wine, and there are hundreds if not thousands of small decisions in between," said Jason Hanson of Hanson Vineyards, located in Monitor.

Thanks to a grant from the Willamette Valley Visitors Association, the Cascade Foothills Winegrowers developed a wine and grape growing curriculum that turned into the Hands on Harvest workbook. Each winery chose a topic from barrels to sulfites and closures to trellis systems. For example, Wooden Shoe Vineyards in Woodburn selected soils and shared the history of the soils in Oregon, along with the type of soil at its vineyard.

"People don't have much of an opportunity to ask questions of an actual winemaker — but you'll almost always find me behind the bar on weekends," said winemaker Chris Helbling of Whiskey Hill Winery.

Stretching from Villa Catalana Cellars in Oregon City to Piluso Vineyard & Winery in Aumsville, the 15 boutique, family-owned wineries are each unique in their vineyard management and winemaking techniques.

Unfortunately, some people are either embarrassed or intimidated to ask questions about wine. Silver Falls Vineyard winemaker Jess Defrees said there is no need for visitors to feel that way when visiting family-owned and operated wineries.

"Because we are small wineries, the winemaker or a family member will most likely be working in the tasting room. What better way to learn about wine and everything that goes into it than from the winemaker or one of our family," Defrees said. "Winemakers in our group like to share details about the wine they have crafted, and they consider making wine an art. There is no wrong question to ask and there isn't one answer since every winemaker has his or her own technique and style."

With 15 wineries, and more than 30 grape varieties grown, the Cascade Foothills is a less known area for wine in the Willamette Valley. Hands on Harvest tour is an opportunity to explore the region, learn about winemaking and ask that question you've always wanted to know about wine.

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