My sidekick Stingray is a professional wino. She can tell you the names of about 87 different species of fungus that grow on grapes. She speaks reverently of the Moldavian terroir. She goes around telling people what wine to drink with their fire-roasted frisée frittatas.
Lately she’s been on this kick where she quits her job, shoves a few necessaries into a bumbag, and biffs off to some distant vineyard or other to toil in a cellar for months on end. I’m not sure what, exactly, this cellar work entails, but I get the impression that it more or less involves attaching lots of hoses to lots of tanks for about 12 hours a day in an ultra-misogynist environment for next to no pay. Stingray stresses that it absolutely does not involve picking or stomping grapes. Stomping grapes, she says, has fallen out of vogue. She thinks it maybe isn’t even legal in the U.S.
Anyway, Stingray is lately returned from one of these indentured servitude binges, this time in the Douro River Valley in Portugal. The winery was apparently picturesque in every respect. Rolling hills, winding river, ancient vineyards, and yes, human grape treaders.
I got pretty excited about this last feature. Grape stomping, as anyone who has watched I Love Lucy can tell you, is an iconic motif in the ancient European rustic narrative. It’s Bacchanalian. It’s bucolic. It’s barefooted. How soothing to know that, persisting through the mists of untold millennia, in some faraway Arcadian paradise, human feet yet aspire to this high moral purpose, squishing the crap out of grapes for the enbiggenment of all humankind.
Naturally I subjected Stingray to an extended debriefing on this foot treading theme.
“I can’t believe they still do that!” I said. “Did you stomp grapes?”
“Uh, no. Why does everybody ask me that?”
“What! How come?”
“Well,” said Stingray, adopting the weary tone of an evolutionary biologist addressing an audience of feeble-minded Intelligent Designers on the meaning of the word theory, “they asked me once if I wanted to, but I didn’t feel like taking off my –”
“Are you mad? How could you pass up a primo local color experience like that?”
“I don’t know, I was like up to my elbows in wine all day, and I just didn’t feel –”
“This is a travesty.” I was sorely disappointed by this bloodless disinterest in grape-stomping. “Who goes all the way to Portugal, works in an idyllic ancient vineyard where idyllic ancient rituals flourish, and suddenly declines to stomp grapes? Grape stomping’s a fucking archetypal theme!”
We went back and forth like this for a while. Eventually the facts emerged.
Apparently, as a wine professional, Stingray is immune to the romantic lure of the grape stomping mythos. A further, even more shocking revelation: grape stomping is actually considered lowly. It turns out that the most popular insult around the cellar was “Why don’t you go stomp some grapes, you miserable grape stomper!” In Portuguese this colorful sentiment is expressed somewhat more poetically by the phrase peez ah pee. Or possibly pizza pie.*
Stingray produced some photos of the Douro Valley grape treaders. They didn’t look miserable to me. But the longer I contemplated the pictures, the less nostalgic I began to feel toward stomping. I began to formulate in my lobe a hypothesis I’d never considered before. You will observe in Fig. 2b that the treaders are not wearing sterile disposable latex long-johns.
They’re wearing Speedos.
“Sometimes,” noted Stingray, “these people are up to their crotches in grapes.”
Coincidentally, my fridge happened at that moment to be full of Portuguese wine, so my next question was exactly what you think it was.
Stingray delivered a detailed speech on the subject of filtering practices, albumin, the antibacterial properties of alcohol, and other hygiene-related crap. Unsoothed by this, I pressed her for more. She mentioned the alcohol thing again, and something about a sort of screen on a spigot somewhere. I remained dubious. Finally she admitted the truth: that although the odds are pretty well stacked against it, it’s not 100% impossible that a bottle of wine might contain a pube.
A bottle of wine could contain a pube! A bottle of wine could contain a pube!
* Portuguese speakers are invited to improve my phonetic treatment of the phrase with actual spelling.