Students stomp their way to victory

Mike Johnson keeps the juice flowing out the barrel as Julia Korchvska and Christine Lehotay stomp the grapes. – Mike Zettel/Metroland Photo

NIAGARA-ON-THE-LAKE — It’s a dirty job, but someone has to do it.

Actually, scratch that. They have machines to press juice from grapes, so no one has to take their shoes and socks off, step into a half barrel and start stomping, feeling the juice and grape entrails slosh around their toes.

But that fact didn’t stop 30-some students in Niagara College’s wine business management program from doing just that. As part of professor Ron Giesbrecht’s viticulture and the environment class, the students spent Friday afternoon harvesting nearly 200 kg of grapes from the college vineyard. They then formed three teams with the politically themed names Tromps, TrueToes and Putin the Ground, the latter being a reference to a natural fermentation technique which literally sees the juice stored in a hole in the ground.

The purpose, apart from having some competitive fun, is for the graduate, who may or may not have a background in winemaking, get an understanding of basic in how it’s made.

“There’s nothing added,” Geisbrecht said. “You’re doing nothing and still making wine.”

Once the grapes were collected and divided up, it was time for the students to get into their groups and take turns in the barrels, using their feet to squish as much juice as possible from the grapes. To keep the juice flowing, some students got their hands dirty by poking their fingers through the hole to remove the clogs formed by leftover grape skins.

Christine Lehotay, who returned to school after years of working as a travel agent, said Friday was her first stomp.

“It was a blast,” she said. “It was great.

“A bit messy, but the ancient winemaking technique is a bit messy.”

In the end it was team Tromps who came out on top, producing 44.5 litres of juice, compared to team TrueToes’ 40.5 and team Putin the Ground’s 41. For their efforts, each student on the winning team went home with a prize, the Sour Toe, a loaf shaped like a foot which was created by students in the culinary program.