Monday, October 17, 2011

My First Real Crush

Crushed: Mourvedre, Tinta Çao, Touriga naҫional, Sangiovese, Nebbiolo (by Julia)
Pressed but not crushed: Marsanne

Though I stomped grapes one other time in a small metal bucket, Saturday was my first real crush. The two experiences were quite different. We started the morning at 7:30 in the vineyard harvesting the grapes. Some rows were easier to work with than others. As a newbie, I chose to stick with the easier work. I found the big bunches and snipped, expecting the clusters to fall heavy into my hand to be placed in the plastic lug for collection. Sometimes that happened, but more often some of the grape stems were wrapped around the support wire and needed to be unwrapped or otherwise freed from the trellis. I also found that some clusters were actually multiple clusters that had grown together. There might have been two or even three stems that needed to be snipped before the cluster was free. It wasn’t hard, but it was more tedious that my simple mind expected.
We hauled the lugs to our house where the men set up the stomping system while the women prepared the spa and began soaking our legs in the chlorinated water. I felt like it was a very important part of the pre-cleaning process. Also, the air was in the low 60s and the spa was 101. I won’t pretend that we didn’t enjoy the warmth.

Once the bathtub-sized tub was set up, the grapes were weighed and poured into the tub, it was time for the women to get to work. (I’m not going to hide the very obvious division of labor here.) Three of us would finish cleaning our feet and legs and then climb into the tub. The idea is to stomp all the grapes in the tub in order to free the juices from the berries. We only stomp the red wine. White wine doesn’t have the skins and seeds mixed with it. The process is chilly, slippery, and stimulating. The entire cluster is in the tub: berries and stems. The stems provide an invigorating sole massage while we stomped on the berries.

Gerald provided attendees with wine tastings using previous vintages of the varietal that we were currently crushing. That was a nice touch, but not one that I really took advantage of. First, stomping is slippery, so my hands were preoccupied holding the edges of the tub like gunnels of a canoe. Second, I’m really not supposed to drink wine because it can trigger migraines. Third, I wasn’t ready to add alcohol to my already uncoordinated body. There’s nothing classy about falling down in a tub of grapes. I am proud to say that I never did. It’s all due to my upper body strength as my arms kept me upright while me feet took off in their own direction.
If you think stomping grapes is all fun and frolic, let me introduce you to the workout benefits. First, stomping is similar to walking up a set of stairs (very shallow stairs, perhaps). That up and down movement works the legs while the shoulders and arms sustain the body weight during aforementioned coordination issues. The last part of the stomp is to lift up all the crushed clusters and run them through a coarse screen to separate the stems from the rest of the crush. It involves a lot of bending and massaging in a way that is similar to kneading bread. Trust me, it works the shoulders. As proof of the workout, I had an enormous appetite on Saturday night. On Sunday, my body ached in ways I didn’t expect. (My hands hurt from stomping grapes? Yes, they were holding tight to the sides of the tub for extended amounts of time.)

After each stomping session, the women hosed off the grapes skins and detritus and headed back to the spa. There’s nothing like warm water to ease the muscles. The men processed the crush and cleaned up the stomping area.

If you would like to participate in a future crush, send me a note. Crushes can occur between the end of August and the end of October, weather permitting.

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