When talking about winemaking, the first thing that comes to mind is a group of people stomping grapes with their bare feet. And as a wine lover, you might dream about performing this winemaking technique yourself someday. But is grape stomping still a thing in modern wineries? And why would vintners crush grapes with their feet anyway?
Winemakers crush grapes with their feet because this method gives them more control over the process. They can carefully adjust the pressure on the grapes and determine how exactly they break. In the end, this leads to higher-quality wines.
The most important aspect is the control of how to crush the grapes. Vintners avoid crushing the seeds because they release tannins that impart bitter flavors to the wine. Using their feet to crush the grapes can reduce this risk.
Additionally, some vintners claim that the foot-crushed grapes ferment faster and thus speed up the production process.
Besides the control aspect, grape stomping is considered a more natural way to make wine. Thus, vintners who follow organic or biodynamic approaches to winemaking, tend to crush their grapes with their feet.
WHAT IS THE PURPOSE OF GRAPE STOMPING?
The main reason for stomping grapes is to crush them, so they release their juice. After the addition of yeast, this juice ferments. Or in other words: The sugar in the grape juice transforms into alcohol.
Grape stomping is not only about crushing the grapes, though. It benefits the winemaking process in various other aspects:
- By moving the grapes, the vintners mix the wine must and the yeast. They also encourage the circulation of oxygen. All of these factors fasten the fermentation process.
- When winemakers crush grapes with their feet, they move both the fruits and the juice. Because they are in motion, they can cool down easier. And lower temperatures prevent the growth of harmful bacteria that need heat to survive. So it is fair to say that stomping the grapes reduces the risk of damaging the wine.
- Finally, vintners push down solids that impart color to the wine, such as grape skins and stems. Thus, they contribute to giving the wine a more intense color.
THE HISTORY OF GRAPE STOMPING
Grape stomping has a history of thousands of years. In 2017, historians found ceramic jars near the Georgian capital Tsibili. The vessels contained leftovers of wine compounds, and some were decorated with images of men dancing on grape clusters. Scientists could date the jars back to about 6000 BC. At 8000 years of age, they were not only the oldest evidence of grape stomping but also of winemaking in general.
Evidence for grape stomping is known from other ancient cultures, such as the Greeks, Egyptians, and Romans. Historians discovered pictures and texts describing farmers who crush grapes with their feet.
But mankind has also known alternatives for foot-crushing grapes for millenniums. In 2011, archeologists found a winepress in Armenia. Dated back to about 4000 BC, it is the world’s oldest mechanical device for crushing grapes.
With better technology, wine stomping became more and more obsolete. However, some vintners still crush grapes with their feet. This technique is known under various names:
- The most common term is grape stomping.
- Alternatively, many people use grape treading.
- You might also come across the term feet-crushing.
- In France, the technique is called pigéage (English: punching down) or, more precisely, pigéage à pied (English: punching down by foot).
DO WINEMAKERS STILL CRUSH GRAPES WITH THEIR FEET TODAY?
Only a few American winemakers still crush grapes by foot today. It is simply too time-consuming and thus ineffective from a business perspective. Therefore, most vintners rely on modern machines to perform grape crushing.
When you come across grape stomping nowadays, it is typically an event meant to educate and entertain tourists. The stomped grapes do not make it into a bottle. If you are eager to make the experience yourself, check out the list of venues that offer grape stomping events below.
It is worth mentioning that it is allowed to produce wine from stomped grapes, though. You might have come across the claim that American authorities prohibit this technique because of hygiene concerns. But actually, there is no law in the books saying that winemakers cannot crush grapes for wine with their feet. Authorities only recommend hygienic standards.
The situation in Europe is very similar to the United States. While most wineries rely on modern machines to crush grapes, some vintners still follow these ancient traditions.
Is Wine Stomping Sanitary?
Wine stomping is neither a hygienic problem nor a health risk. Although critics might claim that crushing wine grapes with feet may impart germs on the wine, this risk is irrelevant. The reason is fermentation: While the grape juice turns into wine, the mix of sugar, acidity, and alcohol kills all harmful bacteria. By the same token, animal manure used for fertilizing vines has no negative health impact on wine.
It is unreasonable to assume that the wine can take on “feet aromas”. Even when stomping grapes with sweaty feet, this will not happen. So feet-crushing is not a problem at all. Nevertheless, those vintners who follow this approach have high hygienic standards to reduce germ exposure to a minimum.
Alternatives to Grape Stomping
Today, winemakers use modern machines to crush grapes. Especially pneumatic presses are popular among vintners. They press grapes gently without causing too much damage.
Some machines not only press but also destem the grapes. Removing stems (and seeds and skins) is necessary when making white wine because these solids impart color to the wine. These devices help speed up the process massively.
WHERE CAN I CRUSH GRAPES WITH MY FEET?
Grape stomping is mainly entertainment for tourists nowadays. Thus, wine lovers can participate in this tradition when wine festivals happen. These events typically take place around harvesting time.
Check out the following venues and events to crush grapes with your feet. Be aware that some events for the current year might not have been announced yet or delayed because of health concerns. So check your favorite venues regularly.
Grape Stomping in the United States
Carlos Greek Winery
Alexandria, Minnesota, USA
Four Sisters Winery
Belvidere, New Jersey, USA
Enoch’s Stomp Vineyard and Winery
Harleton, Texas, USA
V. Sattui Winery
St. Helena, Napa Valley, California, USA
Additionally, check out the Napa event calendar to check where to crush grapes in Napa Valley. It is updated regularly to include the latest events.
Grape Stomping in Europe
Of course, there are also places in the big European wine countries where tourists can crush grapes with their feet. Here is a small selection of venues and events:
Winegrower for a Day Tour
Private Wine Stomping Tour
Les Pastras, Cadenet, Provence, France
Private Wine Stomping Tour
Rome, Lazio, Italy
Private Wine Stomping Tour
Florence, Tuscany, Italy
Private Wine Vacations
Bilbao, Basque Country, Spain
Madeira Wine Festival
Private Wine Stomping Tour
Porto, Douro Valley, Portual
Grape Stomping in Canada
Niagara Wine Festival
It might sound antiquated that winemakers still crush grapes with their feet. And it isn’t the standard way to press grapes nowadays. Nevertheless, it is an exciting aspect of winemaking history. And doing it yourself can be fun. So why not visit one of the venues that let you stomp grapes and find out how vintners worked in the past?
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