I like technology, I really do. When the catalogs come out with the new equipment, I will be as enthusiastic as the next home winemaker. I’ve processed grapes with both manual and electric crusher/destemmers and they work just fine, especially if you have a lot of grapes.
However, for me, foot stomping grapes to make wine has an appeal that is unmatched by any mechanical devices. For one thing, it’s silly and cool at the same time. People at the edge of the crowd grinning and cajoling their friends are in the vat minutes later. It’s hard to be stuffy and no one tries. It’s invariably social. Using a mechanical crusher by yourself is a lonely if somewhat contemplative exercise.
From a practical standpoint, foot stomping has two advantages over mechanical crushing and destemming. It’s easy to control the product. Given time, your hardy volunteers will reduce the grapes to a liquid state with skins and stems on the top and seeds on the bottom. You can, if you wish, leave the stems in for a while. One of the big problems with stems in wine must is the inside of the stems. Most stomped stems are unbroken and are actually useful in pressing later as they are in white wine making. Stems seem to help press out more juice without excessive pressure that might break the seeds. A crusher/destemmer shreds the stems and mostly disposes of them, but you can notice the vegetal “stemmy” odor.
Leading the way for our group of friends was Jon Tonsoni of Seneca Falls, NY who realized several years ago that although his backyard vines were productive, he would need more to sustain the party that was certain to result. Every year, his friends and neighbors gather to eat, drink, stomp and sing along with a band composed of more friends. (His wife, Debby, with our friend Elaine are pictured to the left, and their friend Wayne and his neighbor, Joanne, are pictured taking a turn, below).
We’ve done this for years and to good effect. The only extra chore is to fish the stems out of the liquid after the band has packed up. Following Jon’s lead, we hosted a grape stomping in the driveway and had a couple of dozen people. Three events stood out: Our 84-year-old neighbor insisted on taking a turn along with the teenage girls; the teenage girls became adept at fishing out the stems with their nimble little toes and two of the smaller children who started us off were too light to break the grape skins....