How to Help Your Local Winery

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A couple of years ago, my future husband and I were gifted with a bottle of wine from a small Arizona winery. It was delicious, and we were very impressed. About a month ago, my husband contacted the winery to join its wine club and ask whether we could visit. We secured an invite to the winery's planting party and, over Easter weekend, zipped down to Willcox to help Rob and Sarah Hammelman plant vines at Sand-Reckoner Vineyards.

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I can't speak to the challenges of planting and maintaining a vineyard, but I can tell you my five-hour stint planting vines was fun, exhausting, humbling, and enlightening. Also, muscles I never knew I had were sore.

I have a whole new appreciation for vineyard owners and winemakers, and what goes into growing the grapes to make those precious bottles of vino. Here are some tips to get you going volunteering with local wineries.

Reach out to your local winemakers and vineyard owners. Our wine community here in Arizona is small, and it's very easy to approach members of it to offer help. I know Page Springs often offers volunteer opportunities.

Some may not need volunteers, but others definitely want a helping hand at certain points through out the year, typically during planting and harvest. (Some vineyards don't make wine and only grow grapes, but they need help, too.)

Ask questions and pay attention to the instruction. The goal for our day of planting was to interplant new vines in an existing vineyard. Luckily for us, the holes were already dug, so all we had to do was plant the new vines and then place a protective wrap around them, allowing them to take root before being exposed to the elements.

Don, the wonderful vineyard manager for Sand-Reckoner Vineyards, gave us a detailed demonstration and answered all our questions before sending us off to start planting. Don and Rob were great about answering questions and making sure we were planting the way they wanted.

Sunscreen, water, layers of clothes, gloves, and, oh, did I mention sunscreen? I returned home from our planting adventure with a lovely tramp stamp sunburn thanks to my shirt's flipping up while on my hands and knees planting.

I laughed at my husband as he tossed some kneepads into the car before we left to go to Willcox. I confiscated them from him an hour into planting vines. They were a lifesaver. Check with your contact at the vineyard to find out what kind of work you will be doing and what you need to bring.

You will be rewarded for your labor. Most vineyards usually reward their hardworking volunteers with a meal and some tastes of their wines afterward. This is a great time to be able to chat with the winemakers or vineyard owners and get to know more about your favorite wines, or ask your burning wine questions. By the way, the wine tastes that much better after you labor for a few hours and respect how much work it takes to get to the bottle.

You are building community. My husband and I love to support local businesses, since I own a small business. I've had lots of offers from people wanting to lend a hand by scooping out cookie dough or help out during my busy season. It makes me, as a business owner, feel supported by my community when I have people believe in me and the products I make.

Our winemakers represent our beautiful state, and I am more than happy to volunteer my time to help them out. Many hands make light work. Cheers!

Rachel Miller is a pastry chef and food writer in Phoenix, where she bakes, eats, and single-handedly keeps her local cheese shop in business. You can get more information about her pastry at www.pistolwhippedpastry.com, or on her blog at www.croissantinthecity.com.

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