Put your stamp on grapes at Stompfest

Rusty Grape Vineyard contest lets patrons experience how wine was once made

By Sue Vorenberg, Columbian features reporter



If you go

What: Rusty Grape Vineyard's Stompfest, with grape stomping, live music, wine tasting, beer and wood-fired pizza. Benefits North County Food Bank.

Where: Rusty Grape Vineyard, 16712 N.E. 219th St., Battle Ground.

When: Noon to 9 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 29.

Cost: Free to attend, $20 to stomp at 1, 3, 5 and 7 p.m. Stomp space is limited.

Information: Rusty Grape Vineyard or call 360-513-9338

Coming up

What: Heisen House Vineyards Crush Fest. Watch live winemaking using crushing equipment, and enjoy music, food, arts and wine tasting. Includes a vintage car show.

Where: Heisen House Vineyards, 28005 N.E. 172nd Ave., Battle Ground.

When: Noon to 6 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 6.

Cost: Admission is free, with a suggested donation of $5 per adult and $3 per child ages 5-18. Donations go to restore the historic Heisen Barn, which is on lists of state and national heritage sites.

Information: Heisen House Vineyards or call 360-713-2359

Rusty Grape Vineyard has an unusual way for winery newcomers to get their feet wet this weekend.

For a mere $20, visitors can take off their shoes and squish their way to victory in a series of grape-stomping contests starting at 1 p.m. Saturday.

Stompfest, in its sixth year, was created by Heather and Jeremy Brown, co-owners of the Battle Ground vineyard, after customers started asking what it was like in the old days when wineries crushed grapes by foot.

"People were saying how fun they thought it would be to stomp grapes, so we invented this," Heather Brown said. "It's become the most popular thing we do."

In each of four contests, 10 two-person teams square off to see which team can squish the most liquid out of a barrel filled with 20 pounds of grapes. The winning teams from each of the four contests, held at 1, 3, 5 and 7 p.m., get prizes, such as hotel stays or limousine tours.

When the couple first launched the event, Heather Brown stomped a barrel of grapes herself as part of a test run.

"It was freezing and the stems kind of hurt my feet -- especially with the cold," she said. "It's not for me, but people seem to really love it."

Better fun, at least for her, is just hanging out, eating some wood-fired pizza and watching people compete, she said.

"It's much more fun to be a spectator," Brown said. "Some people fall or have a hard time with it. Grapes get everywhere. It's great entertainment."

The vineyard uses a crushing and de-stemming machine to crush grapes for real wine production, both because it's more sanitary and it's faster. But just a few hundred years ago, many wineries crushed grapes by foot, Jeremy Brown said.

"They used to use smaller, petite women or children because they just wanted to crack the grape skins and not actually crush the grapes," he said. "Machines do that more efficiently, but a few wineries still make foot-stomped and hand-pressed wines, for nostalgia's sake."

Rusty Grape Vineyards doesn't make wine from the grapes crushed by Stompfest visitors, he said.

"Grape stomping now, it's just for fun," Jeremy Brown said. "The stuff left over from Stompfest, we compost it, or we use it for our gardening."

There's no charge for spectators who just want to sit and watch. Visitors can buy pizza made in the winery's woodstove, with some ingredients, such as basil, grown in the vineyard's garden. They can also buy beer and sample an array of wines.

Musicians Matt Brown and John Baker will perform during the daylong festivities. And proceeds from the event will help benefit the North County Food Bank.

Coming soon, Crush Fest

If Stompfest leaves you wanting to learn more about Clark County vineyards, Heisen House Vineyards has its own festival on Saturday, Oct. 6.

Crush Fest visitors can watch the winemaking process as grapes are prepared by machine. Owners Michele Bloomquist and Chris Eckels from Heisen House will explain the winemaking steps.

The couple opened the winery Memorial Day weekend in 2010.

"We will have Mill Creek Pub serving food by the plate. We will have music by (the French Troubadour) Eric John Kaiser. And we will start the crushing of the grapes at 2," Bloomquist said.

"We will also have various arts and crafts vendors, selling everything from jewelry to garden art to antiques," she added.

"This is the third time we've done this event. I think people find it really fascinating to see how wine is made and to see how much is involved. It takes almost three pounds of grapes to make a bottle of wine."

Five types of red and wine grapes also will be offered for tasting.

Proceeds from the event will go to restoring the historic site's barn.