Grape stomping may have originated in Rome, but Scott Harvey Wines in Amador County keeps the tradition going with an annual grape stomp of its own. As part of a 41-year-old tradition held at the Shenandoah Valley tasting room, Scott Harvey Wines invites guests annually to compete in the winemaking tradition of crushing grapes by foot. “Stompers” crush the grapes while “swabbies” collect the juice in one-gallon plastic jugs.
If you’ve ever watched the famous scene in “I Love Lucy” where Lucy crushes grapes in Italy, you know that grape-crushing can be messy, fun, and an exciting way to celebrate winemaking.
The History of Grape Stomping
Before modern wine presses, grape stomping was a crucial part of winemaking. Romans used the grape stomp for centuries to make their wine. One of the earliest recorded grape stomps occurred around the third century.
The purpose of stomping the grapes is to release the juice, which will become wine. The process is simple. Grape stomping involves crushing the grapes with bare feet to extract the juice. Freshly harvested grapes are dumped into the containers using clean tubs, then the stomping begins. Crushing them with human power uses a gentler process than modern equipment.
A rhythmic stomping process ensures that all the grapes are crushed evenly, allowing for the broken grape skins to release the flavors and aromas of the juice. The juice then flows down into the bottom of the container, where it is collected and fermented to make wine.
One of the advantages of grape stomping is that crushing with human power is a gentler process than modern equipment and doesn’t damage the grapes. Damaged grapes, an unwanted side effect of over-crushing, can lead to unwanted flavors and aromas in the wine.
However, today, most winemakers use mechanical crushers to extract the juice from the grapes. These machines are more efficient and can quickly process large quantities of grapes. Despite the prevalence of mechanical crushers in modern winemaking, some winemakers still prefer the traditional method of grape stomping. They believe it adds a unique character to the wine and produces a more authentic flavor.
Grape Stomp Event at Scott Harvey Wines
In some parts of the world, winemakers still use this traditional technique of crushing grapes barefoot. It is considered an essential step in winemaking. But at Scott Harvey Wines, it’s strictly for fun. The grape stomp provides the ultimate kickoff to the fall harvest season with live music, delicious bites from a local food truck, and a lively barefoot grape stomping competition.
Five teams of two compete in four events. The winner from each round moves to the championship round for the grape prize. The winning stomper and swabbie in each heat win a $50 gift certificate. Those advancing to the championship round win a magnum of Scott Harvey Wines’ offerings. Scott personally signs the magnum.
The entire stomping performance is a somewhat “elevated” affair. Stompers climb onto a flatbed stage where 100 pounds of Grenache grapes fill five wooden half-wine barrels. And the excitement begins as Scott Harvey calls out the instructions. He says, “Swabbies are the most important part of the team because it’s up to them to clear any twigs or skins from the tube where the juice flows out of the barrel.” There’s no tipping the barrel, but stompers can hold onto the sides of the barrel for stability. The competition begins with a countdown. The stompers crush the grapes into a jammy mixture of seeds, stems, and juice in a vigorous, four-minute, timed frenzy. At the same time, the audience cheers on their favorite team.
Winery employees, whole families, and strangers who just happened to stop by for wine tasting participate in this crazy competition. As we arrived, we watched an entire family pile out of a large SUV, eager to join in the grape stomping competition.
Some people stomp slowly and methodically, while others stomp frenetically. One woman stomped while dancing to the music of the band. Things even got a little risqué when two women, a mother and daughter duo wearing short dresses, flashed the crowd while stomping grapes.
We asked Jackie, the stomper who won a grand prize in the final round, what brought her to the event. She shared, “I’ve always wanted to try it myself. It’s a great way to celebrate Fall Harvest, spend an afternoon with friends, and drink wine.”
Where to Stomp Grapes
If you’re ready to get your own “inner Lucy” on, here are a few other wineries that sponsor annual grape-crushing events:
- Grchich Hills in Napa sponsors a harvest party, grape stomp, and lobster boil.
- The Opolo Vineyards, in Paso Robles, harvest and grape stomp events are so popular that they host two back-to-back in late October.
- Bouchaine Vineyards in Napa hosts an annual harvest and grape stomp event.
- Cypress Bend Vineyards in Wagram, North Carolina, hosts an annual harvest and grape stomp event.
- Several wineries in Fredericksburg, Texas, host grape stomp events. Plan for next year, as harvest occurs earlier than in other wine regions.
- Peltzer Farm and Winery in Temecula hosts an annual grape stomp.
Grape stomping is an age-old winemaking technique still used in some parts of the world. While it is not as common as it once was, many winemakers still prefer the traditional method over modern mechanical crushers. Whether you prefer the traditional or contemporary method, one thing is for sure, there is nothing quite like a good glass of wine. The Scott Harvey Wines grape stomp will leave you with lasting memories of fun, excitement, and delightfully grape-stained feet.
This article was written with co-writer Gary Baker.