Who can forget the I Love Lucy episode where Lucy foot stomps grapes? Wearing a dress pulled into her belt to make shorts and her hair in a bandana, she gingerly steps in the large wooden vat full of grapes. Her initial surprise at the feel of the grapes quickly evaporates and soon she’s excitedly dancing around and stomping with an Italian woman. At the end, she’s totally pooped but smiling from ear to ear. And in true Lucy style, she ends up in a grape throwing fight with the Italian woman. Maybe because I’m half Sicilian and my grandparents made wine at home, or maybe because of that memorable Lucille Ball TV episode, I’ve always wanted to foot stomp grapes.
This October, David and Joan Szkutak, who are the owners of SAMsARA Winery, gave me and a couple of other Wine Club members the opportunity to help them sort and foot stomp Pinot Noir grapes during crush. YEAH!!! I couldn’t wait.
I arrived at the winery around 9 am. The Samsara winery staff were already washing down the production area and all the equipment in preparation for the day’s work. Upbeat music was playing, everyone was happily chatting and there was a buzz of excitement in the air…it was motivating and got us all in the harvest mood.
The plan was to first sort through the grapes to remove leaves, moldy grapes, woody stems, etc. Leaves and twigs are affectionately known as MOG or Material Other than Grapes. Next, we would foot stomp to crush the grapes and ready them for fermentation.
The process for sorting and foot stomping is relatively straightforward. Matt Brady, the wine maker, forklifts each bin of grapes to the top of a conveyor belt while others stand on each side. The first person on one side of the belt uses a plastic rake to get the grapes out of the bin and onto the conveyor, while the first person on the other side spreads out the clusters to better see each grape. The others alongside the belt then pick out and discard moldy grapes or anything else we don’t want to end up in the wine. The sorted grapes continue along the downward slanted conveyor belt and ended up in the foot stomping bin at the end of the belt.
The foot stomping bin is about 4 feet tall and can hold 1.5 tons of grapes, which make around 1,000 bottles of wine. In preparation for foot stomping, I showered and wore old shorts to not have my clothes covered in grape juice. The winery staff helped me clean my feet and legs in a bin of citric acid to ensure I didn’t inadvertently introduce any bacteria into the vat. They then rinsed my feet and legs with water, and I continued up the ladder and into the bin barefoot.
Once I was inside the bin, the carefully sorted grapes started dropping off the conveyor. Here was my Lucy moment…Yikes! I started dancing around to the music, trying to crush every grape I saw. At first, it was really easy and fun, as there aren’t too many grapes yet. But as the grapes kept coming, I had to get creative to get to the grapes under the conveyor belt without getting grapes in my hair! I occasionally held onto the sides of the bin, as jumping around in the increasing volume of grapes was hard work and could lead to me falling…that would be embarrassing…and messy!
As the level of grapes increased, the staff put a board across the top of the bin that I could use to help me stay above the mass of grapes. I first used the board to angle myself and side kick at the grapes coming down the conveyor belt. Was I crushing enough grapes? They seemed to be getting the better of me. I was laughing and getting tired and cursing myself for not being more fit – mental note to lose those excess 5 pounds and get in better shape! Then I had to climb onto the board as the level kept increasing. I had tennis elbow and could barely hoist myself up. OMG – I hope no one noticed. My exit from the bin would have made a good bloopers video.
Since the grapes were picked at early in the morning, they were really cold, and my feet and legs got a bit numb. Who knew? When I finished crushing the third bin of grapes, I felt happy but tired. I had crushed a lot of the grapes, but asked Matt if I had crushed enough. Thankfully he said yes – that there just needs to be enough liquid to help break down the rest of the grapes. I think I would have liked to know that sooner!
I then got to work on the conveyor line to help sort grapes. That too was really fun and the team working at the winery is awesome. Others had a chance to foot stomp and there were many laughs and good stories told and shared.
After the work was completed for the day, David and Joan treated everyone to lunch and wine outside. I really enjoyed myself and hope that I was more helpful than a burden. I told Joan we needed t-shirts that say “I crushed it!” I have a much better appreciation of wine making now and can’t wait to taste the wine that is made partially from my efforts. Maybe I need to buy a few bottles of the Pinot made from my crushed grapes and sign the labels?
We all created new memories. Luckily nobody got into a grape throwing fight like Lucy did! I haven’t yet seen the new Amazon Prime Movie “Being The Ricardos” but I’m going to guess grape stomping didn’t make it into the plot. But who knows, now that Lucy is being introduced to a new generation, maybe we can get some younger folks to recreate the foot stomping that I so enjoyed!
Thank you so much David, Joan, Matt and the entire staff for being so welcoming, making the day so much fun and for your friendship. What a lovely gift.
Sincerely, Jean Camp