When was the last year that grapes were crushed by foot in Europe?

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Dear Dr. Vinny,

When was the last year that grapes were crushed by foot in Europe?

—Jayne X., Milwaukee

Dear Jayne,

I Love Lucy reruns aside, crushing grapes by foot fell out of favor a long time ago. Even though foot treading has a reputation as an effective way of crushing grapes (while not also crushing the bitter seeds), other methods are easier and more cost-effective. From what I can tell, by the Middle Ages, basket press–style wine presses had replaced foot-stomping for most wine production, except when it comes to Port, where treading the grapes is still practiced.

Outside of Portugal, I’ve heard rumors of some small producers who still crush grapes by foot, even bare (for those fixating on the “ick” factor, there is such a thing as sanitizer, and there aren’t many human pathogens that can live in wine). Anyone who’s ever participated in a harvest festival grape stomp can tell you it’s a difficult, tiring, slippery, surprisingly cold practice. Other methods are more uniform and take much less time. That said, I’ve been at wineries during fermentation, and have witnessed some winemakers put on tall (and sanitized) rubber boots to help punch down the “cap” on a container of fermenting wine, which is easier than using upper body strength to use the potato-masher-like option.

—Dr. Vinny

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