This weekend, four friends and I headed out to Michigan to participate in our first ever grape stomp competition. Dubbing ourselves the Grapeful Dead, we jumped into a huge barrel full of white grapes, we were given a time limit of 2 minutes to try squeeze out as much juice as possible. It was a warm, muggy day, and the barrel smelled ripe with the mash of grapes, skins, and baby poo-like pulp. But gamely, we lowered ourselves into the slippery mixture, and as the techno soundtrack that also worked as our starter gun sounded, we started piling and mashing the grapes against the filter screen in the front of the barrel. The three boys knelt in the front, Jonathan clearing the filter screen of stems and skins and Bruce and Chuck mashed the grapes with their fists. Jen and I were crouched in the back, shoveling whole bunches of grapes to them.
Our efforts? A pretty respectable 43 pounds. The team we were competing against raked in 47 pounds, and the top placing team had an astounding 83 pounds of juice, but we were placed pretty far ahead of the bottom teams of 14 pounds, and 20 plus and 30 plus pounds.
We were pretty doused in grape juice by the end, but it was a hilarious experience. Given that we weren’t intending to participate in the final the next day regardless of the outcome (because we’d signed up for a bike ride through the vineyards), we took a quick rinse and then went in search of food and free wine tastings.
I have to say, after having tried most of the vineyards in Michigan, few wineries impress me. Which is not to say all the wines I tasted were bad – there were some beautiful ones, like the 2 Cabernet Merlot blend I tried at Warner Vineyard, but even I felt weren’t really value for money at their price (that Warner blend cost $30). Most of the decent/normal dinner night/gulpable wines cost at least $20, and the barely drinkable wines cost around $10. For that money, I’d recommend plenty of delightful Chilean, Argentinean, Greek, and Spanish wines. The Michigan whites, were, on the most part, insipidly sweet, with little nose and finish, while the reds were frightfully tannic and bitter. Still, I can’t really complain, given that we spent a fun hour tasting over 20 different wines from both the Warner Vineyard and the St. Julian Vineyard.
We stayed at a coworker’s sister’s cute little cottage that evening, and early next morning, we headed out again to the vineyards, this time for a 20-mile bike ride. Thanks to a late frost in April, the harvesting season started early this year, and we could see the huge machines going up and down the rows of vines, shaking out whole bunches of grapes which are then gently transported via a mechanical belt into huge baskets. The air too, was heavy with the fragrant aroma of ripe grapes. Ah, to own and live in a vineyard!