When Lucille Ball first dipped her toe into the giant barrel of squishy grapes in the "I Love Lucy" episode, Lucy's Italian Movie, she inspired generations of Americans to partake in the ancient tradition of grape stomping . Ever since I watched that episode it has been a dream of mine, and I finally fulfilled that dream this weekend at Bell Wine Cellars in Napa Valley. It was everything I dreamed of and more.
Grape stomping dates back to the third century, and some say even before then. While nowadays it is more of a nostalgic activity than actually utilized as part of the wine-making process, it's not only fun for the whole family to enjoy, but it's also pretty neat...and a little gross...getting to be "part of the process" of making something that so many people will eventually enjoy. Although, we were told that the juice we stomped would not actually be turned into wine, because it's no longer considered sanitary and legislation was actually created to disallow the use of grape-stomped juice in wine-making. It's probably just the idea of feet in your juice that's gross, but I would think that the fermentation process would kill any sort of bacteria that might exist. What do I know?
Let me tell you about the actual experience of grape-stomping. I wondered if I would actually enjoy it, or if it would gross me out. If you remember the "I Love Lucy" episode, you'll remember that she was initially grossed out and weirded out upon first entering the giant barrel. First of all, I did not get to stomp in a giant barrel, but an individual sized barrel. I'm just glad we got to stomp in an actual oak barrel, and not a plastic bucket like I've seen in some YouTube videos.
Another difference between Lucy's experience and my experience, is that we participated in a grape stomping competition. This was actually quite fun. For the competition you need two people at the barrel at a time. You need the stomper and the scooper. The stomper stomps the grapes, obviously, and the scooper helps funnel the juice through the small slats in the barrel and into the bottle that you're collecting the juice in. While grape juice doesn't stain, keep in mind that if you're a scooper, you may want to bring an extra shirt to change into after the competition, because you will be splashed! My dad scooped for me, and at first I stomped as fast as I could. Eventually, I started trying to help him get the juice to the front. It really was a lot of fun and quite funny. And thankfully, it didn't feel gross or weird--maybe because I was focused on winning, I don't know.
It's a great way to have fun with the family, or stomp out any family feud tensions; and while there were no kids there, I imagine kids would have a lot of fun, too. Bell Wine Cellars made it an enjoyable afternoon, and served a nice lunch of southern fried chicken, biscuits, and fresh salads. Plus, it was a gorgeous day in Napa Valley, how could it not be enjoyable?
If you want to see some serious grape stomping, there is a World Championship Grape Stomp at the Sonoma Harvest. I highly recommend going grape stomping at least once in your life, because sure you can visit wine country any day and get sloshed doing a tasting tour, but I think this is now my favorite way of spending a gorgeous day in wine country.
Check out my IGTV for a short video of our fun afternoon of grape stomping.