Those of us who are Baby Boomers have etched in our memories the image of Lucy and Ethel stomping grapes in large wooden vats. For many of us, it’s the epitome of winemaking. But the history of grape stomping dates back to 6000 BC. Making wine from grapes is an age old tradition; from harvesting wine grapes, to stomping and crushing them, to fermenting and aging in barrels and then bottling and drinking.
This year, our Scott Harvey Grape Stomp will be at our new winery in the Shenandoah Valley in Amador County. The competitors will get down and dirty for the title of Grand Stompers. Forty competitors will vie for the title and most will look a bit like Lucy and Ethel – their faces, arms, feet and legs will be spattered with bright red grape juice. Scott has the brilliant idea to use alicante bouschet–one of the few varietals that run red juice. This makes for dramatic effects for the stompers.
People still tread grapes by foot today, although many regions have outlawed it siting health reasons. Foot treading has been around almost as long as wine and has certain advantages. When you are in the vat treading the grapes, you can feel the clumps and break them up, avoiding hot spots in the must; your foot has a different motion than a mechanical crusher destemmer which is essentially a giant auger.
The art and science of viticulture is thousands of years old and grape stomping was an important processes in the creation of wine for many civilizations. Over the centuries, crushing was done by foot with people stomping (or treading) the grapes to crush open the fruit. Artifcats such as treading vessels, have been recovered from as early as ancient Egypt.
In Mesopotamia, the area of present day Iraq between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, grapes were first cultivated and viniculture first practiced 5000 years ago. The Code of Hummurabi, inscribed about 4000 years ago, was Earth’s first written code of law and this code contains edicts governing the making and selling of wine.
The Greeks became the first recorded people in history to plant commercial vineyards and market their wine in other countries, around 3500 years ago. There is documentation that in ancient Greece, the Greeks stomped while listening to a flute. The Greeks, in order to maintain balance, would hold onto overhead ropes or supports. Obviously, labor costs became very high utilizing this method. The advent of industrial age with its new technology rendered the practice almost extinct, except for festivals and the making of some ports.
The Romans borrowed and adapted much of Greek culture to their own as they conquered the older culture. Viticulture was included in this legacy of Greece to Rome. As the Roman Empire grew, viniculture grew with it, vineyards being planted in areas which were to become the modern nations of France, Germany, Italy, and England. Many of the vineyards established under Roman rule are still wine producing areas today.
In 476 AD the Roman empire crumbled, falling to Germanic invasion. Europe suffered a major setback both politically and scientifically, with institutions and learning coming to a halt. Viticulture survived this catastrophe because of the importance of wine in the newly ascendant Christian religion. Monks helped preserve the methods of winemaking and the vineyards necessary to practice it.
In ancient times, good drinking water was a thing that couldn’t be found anywhere and as people needed to drink something with their meals, a wonderful alternative was wine. Markings on Mesopotamian tomb walls and stone tables indicate wine production and consumption as early as 6000 BC. The wine that was produced by the Mesopotamians was possibly very rough compared to recent wines that we drink at present, but it was lot better than the available drinking water.
With the advancement of technological procedures, the industry of winemaking developed better techniques for production, which generated better and various kinds of wines. New techniques of storage such as refrigeration produced a brand new process. The process of fermentation could be controlled by changing temperatures at decisive times. All these procedures result in better wines.
Read another 2015 Harvest Post – The Life of the Wife of the Winemaker