Fall is splendid for many reasons. There’s the wild foliage, the many sweet and disconcerting state fairs, and the mountain towns at their most charming. Fall is also splendid because, in wine regions around the country, it is grape-stomping season.
The process also known as grape-treading is exactly what it sounds like: climbing barefoot into a large vat of grapes to trample them into what will later become wine, a tradition that dates back thousands of years. Mushing them up like this separates the grapes from their skins, squishes out the juices, and begins the process of fermentation. Wine-pressing is mostly done mechanically these days, but come fall many vineyards keep the practice alive as a fun way to attract visitors, which absolutely works. You can do it with friends. You can do it while singing. You can do it while drinking the wine that someone stomped the grapes for in a previous year, as one day someone else may with the wine you are stomping grapes for now. And while this experience is one most widely available August through November, there are also wineries that offer it year round. Let us now guide you to a grape-stomping venue near(ish) you.
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You can head to Oregon in late September for the state’s annual Grape Stomp Championship & Harvest Fair at Willamette Valley Vineyards (tickets start at $15). And you can head to Solvang, near Santa Barbara, Californiia, for the annual Solvang Grape Stomp in October. But it’s Northern California, as you probably guessed, that has the whole wine harvest seasonal activity scene pretty well covered. From September 19th through October 25th, The Wine Foundry in Napa is hosting CRUSHCAMP, where $125 per person will get you two hours of harvest-themed activities that let you play with every step of the production process, from stomping to de-stemming to, obviously, tasting. Grgich Hills Estate is the only Napa-area vineyard to offer grape stomps daily, which they do through the end of October, or whenever they run out of grapes -- $50 (for the kids, $20) gets you a stomping session, a flight of three wines, and various souvenirs including a bottle of Fumé Blanc to take home (for the kids, apple juice). The Sonoma Valley Harvest Fair in October, meanwhile, is where you’ll find the World Championship Grape Stomp.
In Illinois, Galena Cellars Vineyard throws an annual Fall Harvest Festival in late September, where you can wear yourself out stomping grapes and then relax among local food and artisan vendors, or perhaps on a horse-drawn carriage ride. Over in Wisconsin, The Blind Horse puts on a late-September harvest festival where the signature event -- that would be the grape-stomping competition -- is free to enter. Cedar Creek Settlement (near Milwaukee) throws a Wine & Harvest Festival in late September that features a special stomp just for the kids (don’t worry, the adults have one of their own, too). Morgan Creek Vineyards near New Ulm, Minnesota, puts on The Great Grape Stomp each October. Bring two to four friends, the best costumes you can think of, climb into your assigned vat, and attempt to squish out more juice than your competitors do from theirs. Carlos Creek Wineryin Alexandria, Minnesota offers grape-stomping events with various costume themes in September.
Four Sisters Winery in New Jersey offers grape-stomping once a month or so throughout the year. $37 gets you a three-hour tour that includes stomping, multiple tastings, and a spaghetti dinner. Laurita Winery, also in New Jersey, throws a grape-stomping event a couple of times per year. Childress Vineyards in North Carolina throws a Grape Stomp Harvest Party in late September (tickets are $25) with food vendors, live music, and also beer, for when you need a quick palate cleanse from all the grapes coating both the inside and outside of your body. On September 28th, the Grape Stomp Harvest Festival at Mountain Rose Vineyards in Virginia includes a stomping competition you can enter for $25, plus a delightful roster of seasonal fair offerings like hayrides and face-painting.
Texas has grape-stomping events scattered across the state that get rolling as early as July; Pedernales Cellars hosts them on multiple weekends. In New Mexico, the Wines of the San Juan Harvest Fest in late September features a costumed stomping contest you can enter for $25 per team, wherein you’ll have three minutes to try to squeeze as much juice as possible out of 30lbs of grapes. Use your hands if you gotta. This is no time for games.