“Do you crush the grapes with your feet?”
This is by far the most common question asked at any winery, on any given day. While more seasoned winery visitors may discretely roll their eyes at the gentleman in the Hawaiian shirt asking the question (and it’s almost always a guy who asks this), it is a legitimate question.
More than any celebrity chef, nobody has shaped our popular understanding of wine more than Lucille Ball. We’ve all seen Lucy’s classic cat fight in a wine vat. We rooted for her as she smashes grape skins into the face of her haughty opponent. Wouldn’t we all like to lob a fistful of grape skins at any wine snob?
Wine “stomping” is part of the wine making process.
Grapes are crushed into a pulpy mixture of grape juice and grape skins, called must.
For a red wine, this is then allowed to ferment before its pumped back into a wine press, where the fermented juice is pressed out of the skins and allowed to age in oak casks or stainless steel vats. For a white wine, the must is pressed immediately after the grapes have been crushed.
Wine stomping has fallen out of disuse.
It’s less efficient than the new machinery for crushing and de-stemming grapes. Great wines come from great grapes. The quality of the wine depends on minimizing the time between when the grapes are harvested to when they are crushed. Motorized crushing machines can crush more grapes in less time than do bare feet.
While stainless steel equipment is certainly easier to keep clean than the soles of one’s feet, stomping is by no means an unsanitary or outmoded way of making wine. Some old school winemakers (mostly in Europe) eschew machinery in favor of the Lucille Ball method, arguing that the machinery is too rough on certain types of grapes and imparts needlessly bitter notes in the wine.
If you do happen to taste a wine that tastes or smells like gym socks, it is de to a flawed fermentation process. While American wineries almost universally crush their commercial wines with machinery. If the idea of toenails in your Riesling doesn’t set well with you, it never hurts to ask when you visit a winery.
For those who want a deeper wine experience, wineries across the country have special wine stomping parties.
Visitors can come and get their feet grapey and crush some grapes the old fashioned way. Most American wineries typically dispose of the crushed grapes once the party’s over. Of course, if purple feet aren’t your thing, you can visit just about any winery during harvest season. Enjoy a glass of your favorite wine while watching others do the crushing and pressing.
Stop by Island Winery in the month of October and you may catch us crushing the grapes using our mechanized crusher/de-stemmer. Sorry to say… no purple feet here!
By Georgene Mortimer, Island Winery
The Island Winery store/tasting hours are Monday-Saturday, 12:30-5:30 p.m. 12A Cardinal Road. 843-842-3141 or www.islandwinery.com.