The Ottumwa Courier

September 30, 2013

A stomping good time

Courier staff writer

---- — BATAVIA — Not even heavy rain would keep wine enthusiasts from helping Cedar Valley Winery celebrate the harvest season Saturday.

The winery's second annual Grape Stomp gave visitors a chance to see how the juice was extracted from the grape in the good old days before presses — using just your feet. And it was just like the movies and television portray it.

"This is basically how they used to get the juice out before presses, way back in the day," Stephen Miller, one of the winery's owners, explained. "Back then it was something they had to do, and now it's just fun."

The unique experience of kicking off your shoes and turning grapes into juice with your feet drew a crowd from all across the state. Kim Bartosh and Barb Norton, the first stompers of the afternoon, had come from the Des Moines area especially for this event with pictures of the "I Love Lucy" episode in their heads.

"When we came, I pictured Lucy and Ethel in the larger barrel, but we can make it a competition this way," Norton said.

The smaller wine barrels had spouts attached, and several bags of grapes were poured into each one. The bare-footed wine stompers could then race to see who filled their glasses first.

Miller used the time between stompers to educate them on the wine-making process, which extends far beyond feet in a barrel. Eight tons of grapes will only make about 700 gallons of juice, and each gallon weighs about eight pounds. Each year, Cedar Valley Winery produces 3,000 gallons.

He also explained that this was how this winery also got its start.

"This is how we made our first wine, that first-ever batch, but it was for home use only," he said.

The Miller family planted the vineyards in 2002, and it took them until 2005 for the vines to mature and production to begin. Since their grand opening in 2009, Miller says they have acquired a loyal following, as was proof Saturday in the rain.

The family has already picked about 10 tons of grapes — a process done completely by hand — and it took two Saturdays and 30 people to get that far. There are about seven acres of land under vine, and there is still more harvest to be done. And the winery is a side business. Each member of the family has their own full-time jobs as well.

"It's all grown right here, and you can see the entire process from start to finish," Miller said. "There's a tremendous amount of sweat equity out there."

The winery's long-term goal is to build an event center to hold year-round activities, making the poor weather a non-issue. But watching the stompers laugh and take pictures under the rain-filled clouds, there's no rush.