How the Grape Stomp became my Favorite Part of Winemaking

by Connie Schlelein on September 13, 2012

Just mention the words “Grape Stomp” to those of us who have celebrated more than a couple of dozen birthdays and out from our collective memories comes the image of Lucy and Ethel stomping grapes in large wooden vats in Italy.  This famous Lucy episode ends in a fiasco with Lucy wrestling a local Italian woman in a vat.  For many of us, it was all we knew about the process of winemaking.

Since my husband and I moved to wine country to volunteer for our favorite winemaker, Scott Harvey, the Lucy episode has taken on new meaning.  Not only has the process become a fun annual event for Scott Harvey Wines but it has also become metaphor for the winemaking process.  On a daily basis we observe winemakers throughout Napa Valley and Amador County wrestle with transforming those beautiful grapes into wine.  Behind the scenes of getting that wonderful bottle of wine on our table for dinner is a challenge at every turn. It is a unique process that has come to fascinate us.

Scott Harvey Wines Grape Stomp

Every year, Scott Harvey hosts his Grape Stomping Competition.  We’ve held it here in Napa Valley but for the last two years, it becomes a “Battleground Royale” in Amador County.  The competitors get down and dirty for the title of Scott Harvey Wines Grand Stompers.  Annually, our competitors vie for the best team of grape stomper; it results in many speckled faces and feet.  To heighten the visual effect, Scott procured the Alicante Bouche, which is noted for its bright red-plum coloration.  The stompers’ faces, arms, feet and legs are spattered with the bright red grape juice and they squeal with delight after their unique experience.  For many of us Boomers, it’s on our Bucket List.

As I help with the Grape Stomp each year while photographing and videotaping it, I’ve become curious about the origins of the grape stomp. How this process started in the history of viticulture and it’s relevance in today’s winemaking was interesting research.  Here’s quick synopsis of what I found.

PROCESS

To allow the juice to run free from the enclosure of the grape skins, the fruit must be gently crushed.  The skins must remain in contact with the juice of the grapes in order to provide color and tannins.  It even has a technical name:  “Pigeage.”  a French winemaking term for the traditional stomping of grapes in open fermentation tanks.

To make certain types of wine, grapes are put through a crusher and poured into open fermentation tanks. Once fermentation begins, the grape skins are pushed to the surface by carbon dioxide gases released in the fermentation process. This layer of skins and other solids is known as the cap. As the skins are the source of the tannins, the cap needs to be mixed through the liquid each day, or “punched,” which traditionally is done by stomping through the vat.

Join us for Part II later this week with a History of the Grape Stomp.

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