California, Destinations, North America

Grape Harvesting and Stomping in Sonoma County

I am continually blown away by the activities available in Sonoma County. It feels like every weekend we have something new and fun to try. It really feels like you could spend years here and not get bored.

This past weekend, we checked off one of our California bucket list items and joined Old World Winery in their grape harvesting and stomping. If you’re planning a trip to Northern California in September, you’re just in time — many wineries are picking and stomping this month. You should have no trouble finding a fun event like this to participate in!

Grape harvesting

If you’re going to do the fun part (stomping) you’ve got to participate in the hard part (harvesting). We got up at 5:15 a.m. on a Saturday to meet a couple dozen strangers at Old World Winery. Darek Trowbridge, the owner, rallied everyone together for a run-down of the day’s events and then we drove over to the vineyard to begin our day.

The sun was rising as we drove to the vineyard, and by the time we got there the lighting was spectacular.

Old World Winery

Choose your weapon

Upon arrival, you had a choice to make: Are you going to cut the grape vines with a scary serrated knife, or wimp out and use the pruner?

Darek, the owner, explained that seasoned grape harvesters use the knife, but that the knife is a little tricky to work with and even the most experienced harvesters still cut themselves on occasion. I chose the pruner and had no issues. Michael used the knife and accidentally cut himself, as did most of the people who chose the knife.

Sonoma County Grape Picking and Stomping

Harvesting Grapes Sonoma County

No heavy lifting

If I’m honest, I was a little nervous about how the harvesting would work. Grapes are decently heavy! ‘Will we be carrying bucket loads of grapes up and down the hill?’ I wondered. ‘If so, I need to wear athletic clothes and be prepared for a decent workout!’ 

Don’t worry, there’s no heavy lifting involved. Several winery employees were present during the harvesting process, and they came around and emptied my grape bucket as it got full. It was their job to dump all of the grapes in the nearby truck.

Volunteers like us had a pretty sweet deal — cut grapes, drop them in a bucket by your feet and move on to the next vine.

Fall Wine Season Sonoma

Experience Wineries Sonoma County

Three hours of harvesting

We arrived at the vineyard around 7:00 a.m. and were driving back to start the stomping by 10:00 a.m. This will vary, however, based on the winery and the week you participate in harvesting.

For example, Darek said that in a few weeks he would be tackling a very large section of the vineyard with a group of volunteers, and that the day would be much more labor-intensive than our session.

Following the harvesting, we were at the vineyard for about two and half more hours, stomping and eating lunch.

Behind the scenes of a winery

Stomping

We enjoyed grape harvesting far more than we expected we would. But the real highlight of the day was the stomping! I was the second person of our large group to hop in, and boy was it cold. And prickly, and slippery.

We learned a few good tips for grape stomping, should we ever come across this opportunity again:

  1. Start in the bottom corner, and smash one layer of grapes at a time. Otherwise the entire batch just settles on top and you pack it into sections, like a triple layer cake.
  2. Hold onto the corner of the tub at all times. It’s incredibly slippery in the middle!
  3. Step out occasionally to thaw your feet. It’s about 45 degrees in the bucket.

Grape stomp activity

Clothing tips

Did you Google, “Wine stomping outfits.”

Oh, uh, yeah, me neither…

Some would say that you need to be dressed to the nines to step foot in a Sonoma or Napa County winery. To those people I would say, “Not at a grape stomping. But otherwise, yeah. You’ve gotta look the part when wine tasting in Northern California.”

If you’re harvesting, wear a waterproof jacket. It was cold in the morning so a jacket was critical, and the morning dew soaked the vines. Everyone left the vineyard wet from the waist up. You absolutely need to wear tennis shoes.

When stomping, you need to wear shorts that are at your knees or higher.

But how much stomping?

We were prepared for a long morning of stomping when we saw our bucket. But it ended up going much quicker than we expected. I would say after about 30 minutes we were all out of the buckets and had produced something that resembled a sangria.

One attendee remarked that the stomping is really just for the enjoyment of the guests. And that no matter what, the vineyard has to put it through the usual production methods. He also informed us that some wineries host stompings and toss the “sangria” mixture afterwards. They just offer it as a tourist activity.

Old World Winery is unique. They use every bit of what we stomped, after cleaning our foot germs out of it, of course. Darek said that he likes to involve the community in his harvesting and stomping because the good vibes from the residents make the wine taste better. He used to charge for the stompings, but found that offering it for free gave the event a better energy.

Grape stomping near Napa Valley

Grape stomping experience

The picnic

After the stomping, Darek invited the group over to the patio to enjoy some good food, good conversation and amazing wine. The wine pictured below is the wine that was produced last year at this event! Next year, what we stomped will be poured into the glasses of those that helped with the 2019 stompings.

So basically, if you’re reading this in 2019, you may be fixin’s to drink my foot wine. Enjoy.

Old World Winery

Final thoughts

I have been raving about this experience to all of my friends. If you’re in Northern California is September, grape harvesting and stomping is an absolute must. You can’t beat a day like this. Then again, this seems to be a very typical weekend activity in Sonoma County.

Sign up for the Old World Winery Wine Club to be invited to member events like this one, and be sure to check out their Facebook page.

Thanks for reading,

Emma

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