Have you heard of Harvest Hosts? Ask any RVing oenophile and they’ll concur: it’s a fun and fabulous way to camp for “free”.
My southwest journey was a trip of firsts. My first look at the Grand Canyon. The first time my tires touched Route 66 (and what better place to emerge onto the historic highway than Kingman, Arizona). And, near Kingman, my first experience with the Harvest Hosts program.
The uncomplicated concept is thus: forty dollars a year buys you access to a super-secret map of wineries and vineyards where, for one night, you may camp at no cost; simply call from the road and let them know you’re coming. Expect dry camping only, and you’ll be parked wherever there’s room for your rig—a dirt path, paved driveway behind the facility, or, most likely, in a field adjacent to the grape vines. Sometimes you get a tour, and you’ll always get a tasting. Buy a nice bottle from your host as a thank you (or, if you’re like me, lug a half case of mid-priced wine back to the trailer after every tasting. This is why the “free” program is not so much.)
My first Host was gorgeous Stetson Winery—the kind of place that couples book for their wedding receptions—located in Valle Vista surrounded by hills that reflect the firey sunset. Since I’m an idiot I didn’t consider the change to Arizona time and I rudely arrived an hour after I was expected. The kind owner, Don, (who was was surprisingly still speaking to me after waiting around so long after closing time) offered me a parking spot by the barn, 30amp power, wifi, and the event center bathroom that was left unlocked through the night for me to use. He recommended a product tasting the next morning, saying “It’s never too early to drink wine!” Tru dat, sir.
Sine then, I’ve been Harvest Hosting my way around the west.
On the stretch of Highway 46 through Paso Robles, California, it’s vineyard after vineyard after vineyard; you could spend all weekend—or a week—jumping from one to the next (though they aren’t all participants in the Harvest Hosts program). In contrast to the peaceful mid-week solitude at Stetson, the joint was jumpin at Tobin James Cellars on Memorial weekend, a popular way station for wine clubbers, road-tripping yuppies, bike gangs (both long distance cyclists and Harley owners), honeymooners, bachelorette partiers, and middle aged girls gone wild.
The tasting bars and sunny outdoor patios were packed with attractive, merry drinkers. The wine was pretty darn good, too. “The only rule in our tasting room is—have fun!” announces their flight flyer.
At the bar I met another Harvest Hosting couple who told me Tobin James was one of their go-to overnight destinations. We were the only RVers camped in the field across the street, and I joined them for dinner (and several more glasses of wine) after the tasting room closed to the public.
Highway 12 through the Lodi Appellation is similar to Paso Robles: miles and miles of vines. (Travel tip: be careful exceeding the speed limit in California. It’s 55 if you’re towing, as I was told by the smug, fat-faced CHP who pulled me over.)
Of the several Harvest Host properties to choose from in Lodi I selected Van Ruiten, a tasteful, traditional family winery with pretty girls pouring generously from the reserve bottles at the bar. That night I camped in solitude by the green acres of grapes.
“A network of wineries, farms and agri-tourism sites that invite self-contained RVers to visit and stay overnight for free”
10965 N. Moonscape Way, Valle Vista, Arizona
8950 Union Road, Paso Robles, California
340 Hwy 12, Lodi, California