Wine has been made for 1000’s of years, and the grapes all used to be crushed by foot. Very few port houses still do this though since it’s so expensive and time consuming. But to get the best quality out of the grapes, foot treading is the way to roll: it’s gentle, random, and can drag the clumps out of corners. Taylor’s still does it for their vintage port, while the other port styles are done by mechanical crush. I got to witness it all go down at one of Taylor’s best vineyards, Quinta de Vargellas.
First comes the cort – this is the first breaking of the grape skins. Treaders get into a big granite vat called at lagar and the juice, skins, stems and seeds come all the way up to your knees.
It takes about two hours of very tedious, methodical leg work to make sure they’ve crushed them the best they can. They link arms to be as close as they can and approach the other line of people inch by inch.
Then liberdade (“liberation”) comes. We caught this during the afternoon with traditional Portuguese songs being played on an accordion while the treaders all sing and dance around. The lady in red has been doing harvest at Taylor’s for 40 years! It was SO amazing to see!
Later at night, the place basically turns into a nightclub (you know, one of those nightclubs with a synthesizer that plays the Chicken Dance) and this is the part I got to do. Before you get in you wash off your feet and legs with a sulfury liquid – though fyi, any bacteria is killed off during the fermentation process, so don’t be grossed out about feet in your grapes. You get in and it’s just this messy MUSH (and for those of you who know my height, I’ll confess it came up past my knees), but it’s totally freeing! Everyone dances, links arms, sings, and slaps hand and foot marks on everyone else’s t-shirts. All without falling into the soup.
I have another video but I keep screaming “woo hoo!” over it and it’s too embarrassing to publish so I’ll just show you some pics.
It was SUPER FUN. Afterwards, they hosed us down and we went back to the house to wade in the pool, of course accompanied by more yummy port and some homemade almond cake. Adrian and Robert were highly skilled at diving into the pool without spilling a drop out of their glass (some sort of port superpower).