The whistle blew and I quickly sunk my feet down into the cold, squishy, pile of grapes at the bottom of the barrel. I did not really have time to think about what it felt like while I was stomping. I only had three minutes to squish these little green suckers before the whistle blew again. When I look back I can feel the roughness of the vines under my arches, the cool, sticky wetness of the juice running down my ankles, and the satisfying pop of the skins between my toes. I stomped until I was breathing hard. I stomped until the grapes were mush and I began to slip and slide. I stomped as long as they would let me and I laughed the entire time.
I had never stomped grapes before I attended the 22nd annual Oregon Grape Stomp competition at the Willamette Valley Vineyard. Teams of two – one stomper and one swabber – ran in heats for 3 minutes at a time to try and make the most juice out of ripe, green, grapes. The winning team got a trip to Santa Rosa California for the World Grape Stomping Championship. I had heard of the Grape Stomp last year, but was too late to enter a team. This year I was pleased to be able to go along with my boyfriend Greg to represent Willamette Living Magazine.
The way it works is this – the stomper hops into a half-wine barrel filled with 5 gallons of grapes. They are not allowed to touch the barrel, and must stomp the grapes to create as much juice as possible in three minutes. The swabber stands next to the barrel, catching the juice in empty milk jugs while mixing the grapes around in the barrel to get the juice to flow. The team must work quickly to get the juice out of the barrel, and avoid letting too much pulp gum up the works. After three hilarious minutes of grape mashing and giggling, we were the proud creators of nearly one gallon of juice and pulp. Once the heat is over, the juice is strained and weighed. At the time we did our heat the leader was at 110 (honestly, we did not ask what the unit of weight was…we imagine ounces???), and we clocked in at 109! The leaders watched nervously as our juice was strained, and we gave them a high five of sportsmanship when our number came just short.
Of course there were plenty of other things to do and see and taste while we were at the event. It is a vineyard after all! We started by each sampling a glass of Willamette Valley Vineyards’ Pinot Noir. Greg had the 2010 Pinot Noir, a fruity-nosed and acidic wine with ripe fruit, tart cherry, and a sharp and tangy finish. This wine would be terrific with a berry dessert or just to sip on one of these lovely cool fall evenings. I tried the 2009 Vintage Pinot Noir, which I found to be deeper in flavor, with a tannic finish dripping with dark, ripe fruit. This wine made me want to eat dark chocolate salted caramels and curl up next to a fire. Both wines were lovely and representative of the high quality Pinot Noir that comes from Willamette Valley Vineyards.
We also purchased a bottle of the 2010 Pinot Gris to sip while relaxing on the lawn. This wine is subtle and delicate, with a wonderful, round, citrus flavor. I also enjoyed the aromas of pear and melon as well as the silky mouth feel. We toasted with short tastes to kick off our stomp heat, and then wrapped up the afternoon by savoring it with brie, grapes, crackers, chips, and salmon. The wine stood up well to all of the flavors, though in the end I wanted to keep it to sip while looking out on the awesome view from the deck. We had lovely weather for the first weekend in fall – I went home with rose in my cheeks from both the wine and the sun.
Here’s to fall! Here’s to the grape harvest and the time where grapes become juice, and juice becomes wine. Here’s to the bounty of the Willamette Valley, and to our wonderful hosts at Willamette Valley Vineyards. The Grape Stomp was a blast, and I hope to be in attendance next year!
Clare Cady is an East coast transplant with the heart of an Oregonian. She is passionate about local food and beverages, and seeks to share with others what makes wine interesting, delicious, and accessible. Clare works at Oregon State University, where she serves students experiencing poverty and food insecurity. When she is not writing articles for Willamette Living Magazine, she is gardening, cycling, backpacking, surfing, or serving as a staff writer for WestToast.com.