6 Chefs Descend On Napa. Reap The Benefits. Survive The Hangovers.

At the end of the summer each year, Cakebread Cellars in Napa Valley, like wineries and working farms around the country, celebrates the harvest. It throws a big party for the local wine lovers, and invites chefs from around the country to come cook. But that's not all: the chefs have the opportunity to spend a couple days at the winery, meet a slew of local food purveyors — as do a group of select Cakebread customers. The five-day event could be likened to wine-and-food pairing boot camp.

The 26th annual Cakebread Cellars American Harvest Workshop just wrapped up and featured chefs from around the country: Luis Pous from the Florida Keys, Danny Trace from Brennan's in Houston, Daniel Stern from R2L in Philadelphia, David Hawksworth from his eponymous Vancouver restaurant and Will Bradof and Paul Wireman from Trio in Jackson Hole.

Each morning started bright and early so that attendees could attend seminars in the vineyards, pick grapes before it got too hot and generally cram as many farm and other food purveyor visits in as possible. At Forni-Brown Gardens, which has provided produce for the likes of Michael Chiarello, Alice Waters and Thomas Keller, the chefs were treated to a tasting of greens, from mustard to purslane. It didn't stop one of them from palming a shiny deep purple Indigo Rose tomato right off the vine and popping it into his mouth when no one was looking. It was worth it: Forni-Brown's tomatoes can bring tears to your eyes they are so bursting with warm summer flavors and juice-running-down-your-chin memories of childhood.

At Bellwether Farms, chefs who had been rowdy the night before struggled in the cheese production room with the smell of sour milk, then swarmed a table of soft, tart ricotta and nutty raw sheep's milk cheese like ravenous bees. At Gourmet Mushrooms, they snapped iPhone photos of Trumpet Royales, so big they could have housed Smurfs.

At each stop, the chefs made mental notes of how to incorporate the products into a meal, while guest "cooks" (Cakebread customers) got to see how a chef's brain works during menu-planning sessions when the six pros sat out in the sun discussing the evening's meal. Then, once the afternoons would wind down, it was time to be put to work. A couple from Central Pennsylvania joined Daniel Stern on what they affectionately nicknamed "team antelope" one night, as he marinated, rubbed, then grilled huge loins of game meat. A brother-and-sister team shucked oysters for the two chefs from Trio. This was more than a cooking class: it was bona fide dinner service for 72 paying guests.

The chefs are meant to come away from the experience with a deeper appreciation for the ingredients they use and how they get matched to wine. The non-chef attendees are just thrilled to be thrown into the thick of the F&B biz. Everyone heads home a little wiser, a little better versed in all that Napa has to offer, a little hungover. The lesson: wine country is about more than just wine. But you certainly won't go thirsty there.

More food festival coverage on Food Republic: