Although joining the French grape harvest is a tricky business for Americans (officially, a European Union residency card or student-in-France ID is required for formal engagements), there are simple ways for Americans to enjoy or participate in the harvest. These include organized visits (you pay to work, but hey, you can always quit!) or harvest festivals where the public joins in. Note that the harvest is short -- less than two weeks in September-October -- and exact dates are often not known until weeks before.

* Get paid with wine and food for a day. The tiny town of Pamproux off the French Atlantic coast (230 miles southwest of Paris, 32 miles southwest of Poitiers and 130 miles north of Bordeaux) holds a 10-day Vendanges Festival starting the second or third Friday in October. On the first Sunday morning of the festival, the public and visitors are invited to join in the picking. A free feast and wine follow. Contact the mairie (city hall) of Pamproux (011-33-549-76-30-04) for details, or visit the Haut Val de Sevre regional Web site, www.ot-valsevre.fr, for tourist information in English.

* Paid visits in Champagne. Some of Champagne's vineyards, about 21/2 hours by car southeast of Paris, offer Journees Vendanges -- paid harvest-day visits that include some grape picking. These houses are accustomed to English-speaking visitors. Contact for vendange dates in advance.

{scheck} Drappier, in Urville (011-33-325-27-40-15, www.champagne-drappier.com), one of Champagne's premier family-run houses, offers a Journee Vendange, including breakfast, grape-picking in Drappier's ancient vineyards, lunch with the grape-picking team, and touring and tasting in the winery. The $50 fee includes a bottle of Drappier. Minors (no bottle of champagne) pay $27.

{scheck} Champagne house Veuve Doussot in Noe les Mallets (011-33-325-29-60-61, www.champagneveuvedoussot.com) offers a Journee Vendange for about $40 per person. The day package includes participation in grape picking, lunch, winery tours and champagne tasting in the cellar. The domaine can recommend local hotels.

* The pick of Provence. Ever dreamed of busting your back under that famous Provence sun? Voyages Provence (011-33-442-27-50-90, www.voyages-provence.com) organizes grape-picking days for English speakers for about $250 per person at a small family-run winery 10 minutes outside Aix-en-Provence. Eat and work with the vendange team (breakfast is at 7:30 a.m.), then taste wine and hobnob with the proprietor, a former English banker. Five double rooms are also available at the winery for about $120 to $175.

INFORMATION ON ALSACE: Though no organized grape-picking for tourists exists in Alsace, the Alsace wine route -- a long, hilly stretch of wine-growing villages that starts near Strasbourg -- is vibrant with both fall color and harvest festivals during the first two weeks of October. For English-language information on the wine route and a complete list of harvest celebrations, visit the region's wine association, the Alsace Wine Committee, www.vinsalsace.com. For more tourist information on Alsace in English: Tourism Alsace, www.tourisme-alsace.com.

-- Robert V. Camuto