Have you ever been grape stomping? If you’re not a farm hand or winemaker (and you were born in the 20th century), the chances are you haven’t. It’s fairly old graft and these days is more of an experience than an actual wine production method. I had a crack at it last weekend and I’m sure you have questions. So let me answer those for you before I share my grape stomping experience…
What is grape stomping?
Grape stomping (or grape treading) is part of maceration, where grapes are repeatedly trampled in vats by barefoot stompers to release the grape juices and begin fermentation. It’s a traditional method of winemaking and more of a gimmick these days rather than an actual practice.
What is pieage?
Yes, what is this stirring you’re doing in the photo you ask? No I didn’t get really small, I got knee deep in grapes and their delicious juices and mixed it up. Pieage is a technique winemakers use to mix a red ferment. When grapes are fermenting, CO2 bubbles form and lift the grape skins to the surface to form a dry layer called a cap. Winemakers then use a stick to submerge the cap to make sure the skins have good contact with the juice to allow colour, flavours and tannins for the end product – vino.
Where did grape stomping originate?
It’s said that grape stomping goes back to 200BC when the Ancient Romans were getting their stomp on to get their favourite juice drink. I think I could fit in with the Romans.
When is grape stomping season?
In Australia, it’s between January/February and well, now! It depends on the region basically as Australia is so HUGE. Hunter Valley is a little earlier around end of January beginning of Feb, whereas the further south you go the later it gets. The grapes I stomped on the weekend came from South NSW so things are kicking in about now (March).
Is grape stomping sanitary?
Jury’s probably out on this one but my take is that it’s fine. One argument is that stomping grapes with your feet is perfectly sanitary thanks to the delicate balance of acid, sugar and alcohol that prohibits human pathogens from surviving in wine.
However, in the US, grape stomping for the production of wine has been banned since the end of the twentieth century. Americans are just not about mixing unsanitary people with their wine. Grape stomping is still used by some small wineries in Portugal and Spain, but overall it’s pretty rare to find someone who uses this method for real production as people opt for the more “sanitary” options in steel vats and the like.
Does grape stomping stain your feet?
I can tell you first hand that it does but it depends on the state your feet are in. I won’t go into gory details so I don’t put you off your wine (or dinner) but if you’ve recently had a pedicure and have softer skin, the stain doesn’t stick around as much. But if you haven’t and your skin is a bit tougher, it’ll get into the cracks and stay there. Nice.
What should you wear for grape stomping?
This one’s fairly easy. Nothing white for starters, unless you’re looking for a splash of colour (see what I did there?). Shorts or a skirt are advised. We thought we’d be getting knee deep at most but turns out it went a bit further than that so I’m glad my friend didn’t opt for the third option I gave of jeans or leggins you could roll up. Because no jeans roll up that high! Better to be safe than sorry is my take.
Where can I go grape stomping in NSW?
If you’re Sydney based, you can have the full grape stomping experience in the city at Urban Winery. Two friends and I went along for the afternoon and had a great sesh. We had wine on arrival (the rosé is lush) along with meat and cheese before the winemaker, Alex Retief, gave us a run down on his wine, where he gets his grapes and the process of production they go through.
Then we got to the good stuff. A quick rinse, soap, rinse off again and in we hopped. I have to say it was a pretty weird experience when you first get in. It’s warm for starters, but we soon got into it. We somehow got our our own bucket – maybe we were too excited and no one fancied sharing that bin of sloshable wine? I dunno, worked for us anyway. Some stomping and mixing and I reckon they’ve got a pretty good wine on their hands now, all thanks to us (obvs).
If you can go a bit further afield, grape stomping in Hunter Valley is rife and there are lots of options in varying prices. Hunter Resort grape stomping is $35, for example but it can vary from free to the full whack at $200. You can see a list of “crush camps” here.
Besides individual winery run grape stomping, there’s also whole festivals dedicated to grape stomping. Stomp! 2019 has been and gone but runs for two weekends in a row in Feb/Mar (for next year). For this year, there is still Cessnock Stomp Festival at the end of April which has all sorts going on from markets to mad hatters high tea, and of course, the end of harvest stomping of the grapes.
So that’s it. Hopefully you know more about grape stomping! Have you tried it before? Leave me a comment below.
Want to learn more about winemaking and growing? Read about organic and biodynamic winemaking here.