Get your feet purple

Step into winemaking at these Oregon wineries
Karl Samson

A traditional German band is playing, and on a stage built from an old wine vat, two dancers kick up their heels. As the crowd cheers wildly, the couple dances faster and faster. Abruptly the music stops, and the barefooted dancers step from a tub, their feet stained with grape juice. They haven't just been dancing, they've been stomping grapes.

September is harvest season, and this month, two Oregon wineries ― St. Josef's Winery and Cellar, and Willamette Valley Vineyards ― will be holding their annual grape stomps. Although you can jump into the action at either winery, the two events are as different as Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.

The grape stomp at St. Josef's Winery and Cellar outside Aurora is all fun and feasting. At long tables, people sip wine and fill up on bratwurst and sauerkraut. Then comes the real fun: To the beat of a German band, the grape stomp begins.

"We choose two names from a hat, a boy and a girl," says Josef Fleischmann, who, with his wife, Lilli, owns St. Josef's. "They don't know each other, but after a minute or two, they do. It's more fun to be embarrassed with a total stranger."

At Willamette Valley Vineyards, on the other hand, tension hangs in the air as serious competitors discuss strategies for getting the most juice out of their grapes. There's a lot at stake, after all: The winning team goes on to the national championships.

Besides a stomper, each team includes a swabby, whose job is to make sure skins and seeds don't block the pipe that runs to the juice-collection jug. Compared to the swabby, the stomper has it easy. "It's the swabby who wins the stomp," says Jim Bernau, president of Willamette Valley Vineyards.

It's a serious competition, but with a band playing, wine flowing, and families picnicking on the lawns, it's also a barrel of fun.

Let the stopming begin

Both grape stomps take place the weekend of September 21-22, 2002. Food and wine are available.

St. Josef's Winery and Cellar. Noon-dark; $7.50 entry fee per person (includes souvenir wine glass and three tastes). 28836 S. Barlow Rd., Canby (from Aurora, drive north on State 99E and turn right at Barlow); (503) 651-3190.

Willamette Valley Vineyards. 11-6; $5 entry fee for two-person team; free tastings. 8800 Enchanted Way SE, Turner (south of Salem, take exit 248 or 244 off I-5); (800) 344-9463 or (503) 588-9463.