This comes up all the time when I tell people that I’ve made my own wine. It usually goes something like this:
“You make your own wine?!”
“Yup. We sorted the grapes, and crushed them…”
“Did you use your feet?!”
“But we did press them, which was super cool…”
“Do they still do that? I mean, with feet? Isn’t it kind of gross to have your feet in there?”
And then we all come up with our own theories on feet-squished grapes and reminisce about I Love Lucy. It’s about time, I think, to answer this question once and for all. But first, a note: We actually didn’t need to crush our grapes very much at all. Usually, you send the fruit through a sorting process to make sure there aren’t any large twigs or lizards mixed in. Then it gets swirled through the destemmer, one of the coolest machines, and lands in a big fermenting vat.
You can then dump that vat of fruit into the crusher, which exposes the seeds, affecting the level of tannin in the wine. (Tannins, remember, live in the skins and seeds, so your whole berry-to-crushed berry percentage is important for regulating those tannins.) But if your grapes, like mine, were so ripe and juicy that the trip through the destemmer and their own weight in that vat is enough to squish the juice out, leaving the perfect ratio of whole-to-squished grapes, no crushing is necessary aside from a little manual whacking with a stick. So no worries; no bare feet were utilized in the making of Je Suis Syrah and Petite Sirah.
But, the answer is, yes. Some people do still crush with their feet, and some don’t even do it solely for tourists. In particular, some Porto crafters in northern Portugal still practice this old-fashioned technique. Supposedly, hiking around in the mash is gentler than any machine, a way to extract flavor without exposing too much bitterness. I don’t know about that, but wouldn’t you give it a shot if you had a chance? It’s probably incredible for your skin, too. And for all you germophobes, here the Cellarist mentions doing a pedi-crush, including a thorough sanitizing of the footsies.
Until I have the chance to crush by foot, I guess I’ll appease myself with watching the Lucy video. I just love the way she saunters into the scene, munching grapes like a glamorpuss. That I can do anywhere, bare feet or otherwise.