Grape Expectations at the Big Gay Grape Stomp in Napa
Girl Roamer Nicole searches for the elusive pairing of wine and women at the LGBT wine event
Remember that episode of I Love Lucy where our favorite redhead tries her hand—well, feet—at grape stomping? Lucy is at first perplexed and disgusted, then she begins to enjoy herself, and then hilarity ensues.
It’s a classic bit from what seems like a completely bygone black-and-white era, but here I am reliving much of it, including the barefoot stomping and hijinks, in fabulous living color at the annual Great Gay Grape Stomp, hosted this year at Peju Vineyard (8466 St. Helena Highway; 800-446-7358; Peju.com) in Rutherford, California.
This was the second annual grape stomping event produced by Out in the Vinyard, an LGBT wine event and travel company.
The event starts out with complimentary wine and Neapolitan-style pizzas baked in an outdoor wood-burning oven. But noshing and socializing quickly give way to the main event: a six-round grape-stomping contest.
Getting the Juices Flowing
The first five rounds pit teams of two against each other, with the winning team going on to the final championship round. The competition is intense, and some teams seem to be under the impression that extra points are awarded for clever names—although neither Statutory Grape nor 50 Shades of Grape advances out of their round.
Each team has a minute to produce as much grape juice as possible. Contestants begin standing calf-deep in wooden vats full of not just grapes, but also plenty of stems, leaves and twigs. There is no clock; instead, a DJ plays music (almost always Meghan Trainor’s All About That Bass) for 60 seconds, and when the music stops, so does the furious tramping. The collected juice that runs out of the vats’ drains is measured, and whichever team got the most fluid flowing wins that round.
I notice that virtually all contestants employ one of three techniques, which could be described as The Pogo, a pile-driving up and down motion; The Running Man, a furious pistoning of the legs, and The Twist, a hip-driven action that crushes the tiny fruit like so many cigarette butts. In the end, though, technique may not matter much. When I ask the eventual winning team, called Size 14, what their secret is, Kevin Neuwirth, the huskier of the two, just shrugs, gestures to his burly body, and says “size 14.”
I think he’s just being coy, though. The real trick is not a secret in this crowd, but not everyone will say it in front of a female reporter.
“It’s about keeping the bunghole flowing,” my new BFF, Charlie, stage-whispers to me. Charlie, who is one half of team Grape of Thrones, liked his welcome glass of wine so much he bought a whole bottle of it, and now he’s not afraid to tell it like it is. As the crowd becomes more lubricated over the course of the afternoon, inhibitions drop a bit. By the fourth round of competition, some contestants are in their underwear, and just about everyone is freely calling out advice. “Keep the bunghole clear,” they shout helpfully. “Put your finger in there and keep the juices flowing.”
A bunghole, people, is just the name for the spout at the bottom of the vat through which the grape juice is collected. It tends to clog with plant matter, and needs to be cleared periodically. But if you’re starting to get the idea that it sounds like this crowd is made up of a lot of gay men, well, you’re right.
I’m disappointed enough in the small Sapphic turnout that I broach the subject with organizer Gary Saperstein. Gary is as surprised as I am. He tells me that attendance at this event, the second annual Big Gay Grape Stomp, is down from the first year, and that the difference is that many more women showed up the first time around. His disappointment seems as genuine as mine. “We really want to attract from the whole community,” he says.
Bunghole jokes aside, there’s no reason women wouldn’t enjoy this event. The core ingredients, after all, are pizza, wine, and making a big mess that you don’t have to clean up yourself, and these are fairly universally appealing elements. I resolve to round up a crew of my lesbian friends for next year—provided no more of them sober up or turn vegan in the next 12 months.
Out in the Vineyard
There is good news for anyone who feels that the best pairing for a glass of wine is female company: The Big Gay Grape Stomp is just one of several gay wine-related events that Gary Saperstein and his partner Mark Voglerput on. Operating under the name Out in the Vineyard, the two host several Big Gay Wine events a year, all of which, Gary assures me, attract a fair number of women.
Gary strikes me as a warm and genuine guy who truly loves wine and his community. (Probably–but not necessarily–in that order.) But I still want verification, so I call Deb Schatzlein, co-owner and winemaker at Mendocino County’s Bink Wines. (The tasting room is in the Alexander Valley: 9000 Highway 128 Philo, CA; 707-895-2940; Binkwines.com.) Deb was invited to be one of the featured winemakers on the 2014 Big Gay Wine Train, a springtime Out in the Vineyard event that involves chartering the entire Napa Valley Wine Train and stuffing it with wine experts and what Gary describes as “200 gays on a train.”
I ask Deb what her experience was, and she remembers the crowd as “pretty mixed.”
“I know those guys try really hard to be inclusive,” she continues, although she concedes that this is so far her only Out in the Vineyard experience.
I want to hear more, so I reach out to Annette Bergevin, managing partner at Bergevin Lane Vineyards (1215 W. Poplar Street; 509-526-4300; Bergevinlane.com) in Walla Walla, Washington. She, too, has offered her expertise on the Big Gay Wine Train, and in fact participated the same year Deb Schatzlein did. Annette is even more effusive in her praise, and remembers the crowd being about 1/3 women, maybe even more balanced than that. She feels that the Out in the Vineyard guys did “a great job of promoting it.”
Be the Change
Annette offers one more hopeful tidbit, almost in passing. She notes that at her Washington vineyard, she has recently noticed more and more groups of women arriving together for tastings. Maybe it’s just a Northwest thing, but it seems more likely that it’s a sign that women are increasingly discovering that wine goes well with female company.
So what to do if you’re a fan of wine and women, but don’t live in the Walla Walla Valley? My advice is to ask yourself WWLD—what would Lucy do? Lucy would overcome her inhibitions, drive up to the Wine Country, and crush those grapes. So, find yourself an Ethel or two and sign up for next year’s Big Gay Grape Stomp. (You have until next October.) You’ve got nothing to lose except a few bucks, maybe a grape-juice stained shirt—and just maybe your aversion to sharing a social scene with gay men. (Who, I’m sorry, can get more fun out of one bottle of wine than some of us lesbians can find at an entire potluck. Yes, even one where a drum circle breaks out.)
Aside from next year’s Big Gay Grape Stomp, which will happen again around the fall harvest, other Out in the Vineyard events to try include:
- The Big Bay Wine Train, which will happen again on March 28, 2015. During this event, the whole train is chartered by Out in the Vineyard. A four-course meal is served, and each of the featured winemakers on the train chooses a course with which to match one of their wines. Gary promises that next year, all the invited winemakers will be from the LGBT community.
- The Big Gay Wine Weekend 2015. This will take place from June 19-21, 2015, and promises what Gary describes as “Three days of gay in the Wine Country.” This is traditionally the biggest of the annual Big Gay events, and has in the past attracted participants from as far away as Hawaii, the East Coast, and even two intrepid travelers from Australia. This past summer’s bacchanalia included wine tastings, pool parties, brunches, a wine auction, and a ball that raised money for Face to Face, a Sonoma County AIDS network.
Keep checking the Out in the Vineyard web site, OutInTheVineyard.com, as more information becomes available closer to the events.
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