The Aesthetic Validity of Grape Stomping
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.
This year we went to a whole new level. Visiting The Hill at Muza, a local beer garden in Troy, NY, we commented that stomping grapes was a perfectly viable technique. The owners, Tim Tyrrell and his partner Adam Siemiginowski decided that a grape stomping event — in addition to being fun — would be the perfect event on the first day of fall and would be a metaphor to help launch their fall wines. It’s interesting how many people remember Lucille Ball’s turn in the wooden vats.
So first you need grapes. I had a partner in the enterprise, a fellow winemaker, Lucas Rice. We figured we would buy the grapes since we would be the ultimate recipients. Then a strange thing happened.
Amorici Vineyard of Valley Falls, NY donated 200 pounds of Marquette grapes to the event. Musto Wine Grape Company of Hartford, CT donated several cases of Carnelian grapes in addition to the cases of Musto/Lanza Suisun Valley Zinfandel/Primitivo we bought. We had 600 pounds of ripe, fresh red grapes.
The venue decorated the beer garden, set up a wine tasting, opened the gates and for two hours, Lucas and I carried alternatively, grapes and stomped pulp until it was all done. Dozens stomped and the crowd eventually filled the beer garden and bar. Tim Tyrell indicated that as many as 500 people attended the event. On a Thursday night, no less. Everyone loved it.
I spent some time explaining the process to curious participants and referred to anything that might end up in the wine as a byproduct of people’s feet as “complexity.” You can’t be squeamish. Grapes are a farm product and we had spent some time getting rid of any yellow jackets and other critters. Do you think we worry about your toenail polish?
Find a video from the stomping party at the link below!