Q: Is it safe to drink wines made from foot-stomped grapes?—Becca, Chicago, Ill.
Modern winemaking techniques have mostly replaced traditional foot trodding, as it’s formally known. But crushing grapes by foot is not uncommon in some regions of Portugal, and it remains a time-honored tradition at wineries all over the world. It’s also a perfectly safe method for crushing grapes in terms of food safety as long as proper winemaking techniques are in place.
Almost no human pathogens can survive in the high-alcohol wine environment, including Staphylococcus aureus and other bacteria that can be found on feet. "This is one of the main reasons that wine is so culturally significant in Europe," says Sabrina Lueck, director of winemaking at the Institute for Enology and Viticulture at Walla Walla Community College, where foot trodding is one of the winemaking methods practiced. "For hundreds of years it was one of the few safe sources of hydration."
Lueck’s team washes their feet before hopping into a bin of grapes, but she says it isn't necessary. And some winemakers wear rubber boots instead of stomping with their bare feet. Either way, you’ve got nothing to fear from foot-trodded wine!—Shawn Zylberberg