I think most of us have heard of a grape stomp - whether it is a memory from an old TV show like I Love Lucy or an email from a local winery inviting you to compete, it's a fun way to spend a late summer or fall afternoon with friends. I attended my first grape stomp as a guest of South Coast Winery in Temecula last week and it was an eye-opening experience. Not just for me - but for many of the competitors too. What seems like an easy task is actually way more complicated ... if you want to win!
How A Grape Stomp Contest Works
Grape stomp contests are going to vary slightly based on the host, but fundamentally they are all going to be the same. There are teams of two people with one standing in the barrel or tub stomping grapes and the other holding a bottle to catch the juice. When the referee blows the whistle, the fun begins. The stomper pounds their feet as hard as possible and the mucker uses a stick to clear out the drain tube to allow as much juice as possible to fill up the bottle.
It all seems really simple but what I discovered is that there is a lot of strategy and technique involved too.
How To Win a Grape Stomp Contest
What I quickly noticed after a few rounds is that time goes VERY fast. While some competitors have already filled their bottles ... others barely have a drop. It intrigued me. This all seemed so simple but what's the key to success. So I asked some expert grape stompers what techniques they used to win. Here's what they shared ...
Select A Good Grape Stomp Partner - Teamwork is Key
When I first started watching the teams it seemed like it was just a matter of getting in place and stomping up and down. However, the best teams communicated with each other and this is important since the mucker is closer to the action and can see where the grapes are in the barrel. This allows the mucker to help guide the stomper as well as cheer him on when it looks like he or she might be getting tired.
The Stomper Must Have Large Quick Feet
The bigger feet the better. If you had a guy with webbed feet looking for a job - this is it! The more surface area that you can cover, the more grapes you can crush.
Never Stop Stomping
The actual stomping will not last more than a minute or two in most cases. This is a sprint - stomp hard and fast and focus on crushing as many grapes as possible. In many ways, the stomper has the far easier job but there's one key thing to remember - while pushing down, push back as well to create a well in front of the drain so that the juice can pool there and drip out easily.
The Mucker Does More Than Just Hold the Bottle
This is very much a team sport and the secret to success is to keep the grapes (and skins etc) away from the drain so the juice can flow out. Some grape stomp barrels will have a filter but most will not. The mucker needs to hold the bottle but also clear the drain pipe and keep the skins away from the drain. If the stomper is doing his or her job there will be LOTS of juice in the barrel ... make sure it can reach the bottle before anyone else can fill theirs!
More Tips For A Successful Grape Stomp Experience
Not everyone who competes in a grape stomp expects to win ... or even cares. It's about the wine and celebrating the harvest season with friends. So with that in mind, here are some important things to remember so you can have an awesome grape stomp experience.
- Wear clothes that you don't mind getting stained or dirty ... guys should wear shorts and women should wear shorts or dresses that can be hiked up.
- Wear shoes or sandals that can be easily removed.
- Consider adding baby oil to your feet and legs to reduce staining. Watch out though, this will make your feet more slippery so use caution.
- Have a glass of wine before you start to loosen you up and get in the mood!
- Have a glass of wine after you finish to celebrate the fun you just had!
- Bring friends to cheer you on and make sure they have a glass of wine too since wine makes everything that much more fun and exciting!
Win or lose, I didn't see any of the stompers or muckers have a bad day. Those cheering on friends and family absolutely had a great time watching the competitors too. If you ever get a chance to attend or compete in a grape stomp, take the opportunity and enjoy it!
The South Coast Winery Grape Stomp is an annual event and I can't wait to go back next year and compete for honor and glory ...