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Attention, ladies: Ever try your hand at winemaking? How about your feet?


You may recall the hilarious 1956 episode of “I Love Lucy” where the barefoot Lucy Ricardo is tasked with squashing grapes in a vat with another barefoot woman, Italian grape stomper Teresa Tirelli, for a supposed movie audition. Though I’m not old enough to have seen the original episode, I certainly remember watching reruns as a kid. During a YouTube refresher of the scene for writing this article, I laughed out loud still. 

Lucille Ball told Dick Cavett in a 1974 interview that the fight scene with Tirelli, who didn’t speak English, was real and unscripted. While incredibly funny, the skirmish was a result of a miscue lost in translation. One thing led to another and Tirelli walloped Lucy with a gut punch and she wound up with legs in the air and grapes up her nose. Ball told Cavett she thought she was going to die during that scene, which, nonetheless, remained her favorite episode. 

That scene was to have taken place in Rome. It seems that all roads do lead to Rome, at least where wine is concerned. In one of the earlier recorded accounts, Romans stomped grapes for hundreds of years dating back to the third century.

However, according to a May 2023 article in Wine Enthusiast, there’s evidence that humans have made wine for at least 8,000 years by squishing vats and tubs of grapes with their feet. The magazine columnist, Kathleen Wilcox, also reported that contemporary winemaking advocates of the ancient stomping tradition believe it provides greater control over the wine’s flavor profile. 

“Imagine you place a grape between your fingers and crush it. Now picture doing it in a vice. Stomped grapes allow winemakers to customize tannin structure and reduce seed breakage, which can create harsh, off flavors,” she wrote.

In a recent Yahoo article, wine blogger, columnist and author Gus Clemmons said modern grape-crushing equipment can only imitate but not replace the pressure of a human foot. 

Now, if you have an imagination like mine, or tend to be a bit squeamish, there’s a good chance the visuals you conjure of some people’s feet, namely their toes, coming into contact with the wine you plan to drink, may negate indulgence (and may even produce a dramatized dry heave for some – depending on the feet you envision). 

Rest assured, explained Clemmons, there is a sanitizing spray for feet before the stomping begins. Besides, he reported, because of the alcohol content in wine, pathogens would not likely survive the winemaking process. Either way, many vineyards provide special shoes for the job.

Good to know.

Grape stomping is not necessarily women’s work. But with March being Women’s History Month, we’ll focus on the ladies for the moment. After all, who gets more pedicures? 

Interestingly, Clemmons noted the ideal grape stomper is a “120-pound woman with large feet … [providing] the perfect shape and firmness to crush grapes and break the skin while not crushing the seeds.” So, for all the women who complain about their size 9s and 10s, think about the contribution you could be making to great wine.

A year after the “I Love Lucy” episode titled “Lucy’s Italian Movie” aired, the famous Italian Frascati Wine Region not far from Rome published a photo in the newspaper featuring a woman crushing grapes with her bare piggies in what looks like a wooden barrel. Art imitating life? Life imitating art?

In either case, grape stomping has become a community and family event at vineyards here and abroad these days. Yet, more women than men tend to take the plunge each year at the annual fall festivals at Benmarl Winery, for one, according to the helpful representative who answered the phone, Christine. 

BenMarl Winery, owned by the Spaccarelli family, in New York’s Hudson River Valley, has the distinction of holding the very first New York farm winery license and is considered the oldest vineyard in America. 

Grape stomping is a popular attraction at Benmarl during harvest season, generally in September, as well as at many U.S. vineyards on both coasts and throughout the country. A quick Google search will provide numerous wineries hosting contests and festivals featuring the ancient winemaking process. 

If you’re interested in getting your feet wet (with grape juice), either here in the United States or taking a wine tour in Italy, a good source with great reviews is www.winetraveler.com. 

Natalie Pantaleo

Natalie Pantaleo, a resident of Haverford Township, Pa., is a marketing communications consultant, brand strategist, and consummate storyteller. In addition to being a published features writer, Natalie is the author of “Lying Down with Dogs,” a novella globally released by The Awakened Press in September 2022.

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