Foot Stomping and Wind Gap 2016 Trousseau Gris
If you know that nobody really crushes grapes with bare feet anymore, you don’t know the whole story — the old way is the new way at some of Sonoma County’s most in vogue wineries.
During the harvest season in Sonoma County, most grapes are de-stemmed and crushed mechanically, of course, and the trend is toward increasing technical sophistication: new sorting machines scan thousands of individual grape berries at a time, recognize under-ripe grapes by their digital profile, and eject them with targeted blasts of air.
Compared with that, crushing grapes by stomping on them with one’s feet seems like a bygone, primitive winemaking practice consigned to the movies or novelty events like the World Championship Grape Stomp at the Sonoma County Harvest Fair, in which teams compete for a cash prize.
But ask Pax Mahle, co-founder of cult Syrah producer Pax, as well as Wind Gap Wines, how they crush grapes at his Sebastopol winery, and he replies, “Yes, we still crush everything by foot … as I have always done.”
As is the case with some home winemakers, it all began as a cost-saving measure. But they found that the benefits extended to wine texture and quality, so that’s just how they do it now — with an army of interns at the ready when trucks unload the bins of grapes.
“We rarely remove any stems,” says Mahle, “so since the wines are not de-stemmed for fermentation, crushing them whole-cluster by foot makes more sense than crushing them mechanically.”
Mahle’s winery is no improvised, back-roads bodega, but a hotspot for wine hipsters in Sebastopol’s The Barlow center, where patrons fill growlers of Sonoma Coast Syrah, Pinot Noir, and eclectic varietals from the tap, to go.
Foot-stompers do have the option to wear boots, says Scott Schultz, the assistant winemaker at Wind Gap Wines and owner of Jolie-Laide Wines. “We do have a series of rubber boots that are exclusively used for that,” says Schultz. “But probably nine-tenths of the time, people go without.”
Never mind the “ick” factor, because they sanitize both feet and boots with high-proof alcohol — and besides, you should see the crawly things that reside in an average bin full of freshly harvested grapes.
Wind Gap 2016 Fanucchi-Wood Road Vineyard Trousseau Gris ($26) was foot-stomped and then soaked on its skins for some hours before being pressed. A survivor from an old school of California white wine grapes that were largely replaced by Chardonnay in the 1980s, Trousseau Gris mostly went by the name Gray Riesling, although it doesn’t have much to do with the Riesling grape but is a variant of the red Trousseau, native to eastern France.
The wine is a pretty, cream rose hue, similar to some blanc de noirs sparkling wines, and the floral and fruity aroma is reminiscent of a pale rosé wine — a vin gris. Fermented in concrete and stainless steel and aged in both neutral French oak barrels and stainless steel, this is the antithesis of creamy Chardonnay, with its tangy nectarine and tart berry flavors of white or orange raspberry, although a hint of a leesy aroma (like whole cream, but earthier) lurks in the background.
Only 11.8 percent alcohol by volume, this may seem at first whiff like a simple, summer sipper, yet it’s more complex and involving than any big-brand Pinot Grigio, for instance — this feels truly handmade. Well, foot-made.
Wind Gap Wines at the Barlow, 6780 McKinley St., Suite 170, Sebastopol, 707-331-1393