The History of Grape Stomping

The History of Grape Stomping

A Tuscany tour involving the art of grape stomping is fun for all the family! Learn more about this ancient wine making process before you go.

The Importance of Punching the CapFor parents, the problem of choosing a holiday destination to keep the entire family happy as well as creating a positive and meaningful experience for children is very real. The Italian region of Tuscany is a perennial favourite with families and, while all that sun and an endless supply of pizza and pasta might have something to do with it (well, ok, quite a lot), believe it or not, it’s even possible to make the country’s rich history come to life in a way that children will love just as much as adults. How? A grape stomping Tuscany tour!

Sound interesting? It might sound even better once you learn a little about this ancient method of wine making.

The Traditional Art of Pigeage

Chances are the term pigeage is not a familiar one, but the image of bare-footed peasants knee deep in a vat of grapes is undoubtedly the one most synonymous with our basic concepts of wine making. The full (French) term is pigeage à pied and translates to “punching down the cap” (more literally, “punching walk”).

During the fermentation process in the vat, the skins, stems and pips separate from the pulp of the grapes and rise to the surface, creating a layer called the “cap”. To create a good wine, rich in colour, flavour and astringency, the cap must be regularly “punched” back down into the vat and kept moist. But there are also numerous other practical reasons it’s desirable to punch down the cap:

  • To prevent harmful mould and bacteria from spoiling the wine
  • To speed up the fermentation process by circulating oxygen throughout the vat
  • To aid in mixing the yeast into the young wine (aka the “must”)
  • To help to get rid of excess heat created by the fermentation process (which encourages bacteria)

A Long History of Stomping

The art of pigeage has been popular throughout many civilisations, dating back thousands of years. The ancient Greeks and Egyptians cultivated grapes as part of their worship to the gods and, in Mesopotamian society, the 4000-year-old Code of Hummurabi made reference to laws governing the producing and trading of wine. (There is actually evidence that wine making went back even further than that in Mesopotamia, with illustrations on stone tablets suggesting wine production as far back as 6000 B.C.)

The common thread is that the method of extracting the juice from the grapes appeared to be the same: through what is now called pigeage. Relics of what are believed to be treading vessels have been unearthed in Egypt, while there is written evidence that the Greeks stomped on the grapes accompanied by flute music. Depictions of the wine making process also show the Greeks used a network of overhead ropes in order to maintain their balance while treading the grapes.

To Stomp or Not to Stomp…

While there are winemakers who still tread their grapes by foot, nowadays, modern viticulture methods employ the use of presses to do much of the work to extract the juice from the fruit. However, the die-hard traditionalists claim the foot stomping method is the best way to gain vital information about the density and temperature of the cap, in order to gauge the precise stage of the fermentation.

Try Your Own Grape Stomping Tuscany Tour

If you’d like a chance to experience something a little different on your family holiday, you’ll win young hearts and minds with a dedicated grape stomping Tuscany tour. Florence-based company ArtViva offers escorted small group day tours to an historic estate and vineyard where the whole family can learn the skills of the art of pigeage.

There’s nothing more terrifying than hearing declarations of boredom the minute you suggest an activity that might take the kids away from their ever-present digital devices, but the opportunity to dig their toes into this centuries-old tradition is one they won’t be able to resist. And if you don’t mention that this particular Tuscany tour is actually a history lesson in disguisePsychology Articles, they’ll never even know…