I flew out to California this fall with the intention, among other things, of spending time on a vineyard, stomping grapes. I’m not sure what gave me this idea, or why I was so adamant about it, but it all seemed so romantic in my head. When this goal proved more difficult than I imagined, I had to improvise and create my own harvest and grape stomping project. I was on the Mendocino Coast in late October, doing a work exchange and staying in a historic water tower. After a little poking around, I found someone who was willing to let me and several others pick all the grapes we wanted from their vineyard. The grapes would have all gone to waste, because apparently the owner of this vineyard had too many other projects to tend to, and couldn’t deal with a harvest this year.
So, we drove out to the small vineyard and started down the rows, filling baskets, bowls and bags with tightly bunched beads of fruit. I had never seen grapes like these, so dark and rich in color, so beautiful and so sweet. Some of the grapes were shriveled and turning to raisins, as it was late for harvesting, but, there were still so many that could be used.
After loading up all we could, I headed back to my temporary home with sticky fingers. The next few days were consumed with de-stemming, rinsing, boiling and straining the grapes for juice and jelly. While I was working on this tedious project I realized what my fascination was with this process. It was just that…the process. We live in a society obsessed with convenience. Doing anything by hand has become such a rarity, that no one seems to stop and think about where our food comes from, how it is made, and who was behind the whole process of making this food available to us. Everything we buy is packaged, and comes from some obscure place, and is produced in some ambiguous way. The increasing distance growing between us and our food is a thought that has consumed my mind for a long time. It informs my artwork and my way of life. Nothing gave me greater pleasure than picking those grapes one bunch at a time, taking them home, shifting through them, and transforming them into my own product to be consumed. The whole method is meditative, and enhances a respect for food, for the earth.
After endless jars of jelly and what seemed like buckets of juice, we still had two large bowls of grapes. So, I washed my bare feet and stomped away at them until every grape was crushed. I did some quick reading on homemade wine, and left three gallons of my handcrafted pinot noir to ferment in the bottom of the water tower. I don’t care if I never get the chance to taste it, I only wanted to stomp grapes and make wine…and I did.