Now is the time that Temecula Wine Country is awash with grape juice. No it’s not the traditional winery pressings. It is the fun-filled art of grape stomping complete with audiences and lots of zany participation. Like many of you, I first saw grape stomping on one of my favorite episodes of I Love Lucy. But I never got up-close and personal with the stomp until I made it out to our local wineries.
My first stomp of this season was at Mount Palomar Winery on a beautiful, crisp autumn afternoon – NOT! It was beautiful but hardly autumn with temperatures soaring into record 100+ highs. This is a good thing if you are a stomping participant because you will most likely get messy and wet and at least want to hose off your feet once your task is completed. Unfortunately, due to a shoulder injury, I was relegated to the position of observer at this festivity.
Each winery seems to develop its own way of organizing a Grape Stomp. At Mount Palomar, participants signed up as a team, ranging from 2 to 6 members. There was a long line of small size barrels on a platform designed for one “stomper” and one “mucker.” Several large plastic vats sat off to the side for group stomping. Barrels are stocked with several inches of grapes when the stomper steps in to grind the grapes into juice barefooted – fairly simple but strenuous work.
The mucker’s job is to continually replenish the barrel with more grapes from a nearby bin, guide tubing from a hole in the bottom of the barrel into a plastic gallon jug, and clean the muck (mostly grape skins and seeds) from the tubing – all while laughing hysterically at the whole process. The first container filled from the barrel wins the heat. Then the lucky winners get to later participate in a Stomp-Off, finally producing the ultimate champions.
The first heats didn’t seem to reveal much team strategy, but by stomp-off time the advice and plotting mounted. First was the theory of “lucky barrels” – one barrel had produced 3 heat winners, so it must be special. Not so much. It failed for the 4th couple who had waited to grab that barrel. Others had researched grape stomping online, finding a particularly disturbing Youtube video that almost led them to withdraw from the stomp. Some were quietly strategizing on how to keep a nice, steady flow of juice with fancy footwork. I never heard a real consensus for success but the conversations were entertaining and lively.
Amy Brewen brought a trolley full of participants on her Brewen’s Empire Trolley. She (a “mucker”) laughingly agreed that it was straight out of Lucy. Her heat was won by local wine storeowner – Eric Dudley of Dudley’s Wine and Gifts in Murrieta. For a memorable touch, Mount Palomar provided official Grape Stomp T-Shirts and set up a booth where participants could personalize them with purple paint footprints or other designs to commemorate the event.
Mount Palomar was indeed rocking for this popular event. People were 3 deep at the air-conditioned tasting room wine bars. Live stomping music was provided by Ricky B and the Stingers. The referee/starter was none other than winemaker, Craig Boyd, resplendent in green shirt, grape cluster print pants and brandishing a whistle. All agreed it was a hot day of grape fun.