I Love Lucy, and one of my favorite episodes was Lucy’s Italian Movie shown in 1956 — of course I was watching reruns. While in Italy, a film producer asks Lucy if she’d be interested in auditioning for his new film entitled “Bitter Grapes.” To do some research for the audition, Lucy goes to one of the only non-automated wineries left in the area outside of Rome, gets picked to crush the grapes due to her large feet. And as situations always go with Lucy, she eventually gets in a falling down, grape soaked brawl with the Italian woman stomping in the barrel alongside her.
Being that grape stomping was on my list (A few of Lucy’s antics are on my list, and for one I just couldn’t get that candy factory job!), and we were starting birthday month celebrations for my friend Lynn, the annual Julian Grape Stomp Festa was the perfect activity for this week.
It was another hot weekend, but we didn’t think much of it. Mistake. As Lynn, Gigi and I make our way north, then east, through Poway and past trailheads to popular mountain hikes, down the main street of Ramona to rolling hills to Santa Ysabel, then a right into the curvy mountain roads when at Wynola we turn left towards the outskirts of Julian to our final destination: the Menghini Winery. I look at the temperature and it was the high 80s. It is hot. Am I repeating the miserableness of last week’s pow wow? Nah, I think this may be worse.
As usual, we’re not as prepared as we should be. We park in the dusty dirt lot and get in line for admission. We start to see people with beach umbrellas and folding chairs. Hmm, I have a picnic blanket in the car, but no shade. With our admission of $15, we get a souvenir wine glass good for stomping on the grapes. We did not realize it did not include any wine tastings. Good thing we got some cash.
Well, the actual stomping hasn’t started yet, so we were all hungry and decide to get food. There weren’t as many food vendors as we expected, and it looked like some people brought their own provisions. (Darn, I had a ton of picnic food at home.) The BBQ place didn’t have enough food ready, so we turned to the one other food vendor (there also was an ice cream place); I got a pizza slice, Gigi and Lynn ordered sausages with grilled veggies. We found some seating at the end of a table, but not under any shade. We ate quickly since the festivities were beginning.
The “parade” starts, which is a tractor bringing out the grapes with the host dancers sitting up front. Everyone gathers round and cheers them on and they stop in front of the two wooden barrels — one large, one small. Before we begin, the priest gives the Grape Stomp Festa Blessing. And once completed the crowd is invited to grab the buckets of grapes and dump them into the barrels. Once all dumped, the stomping begins.
Time to get in line. Well, note to self, next time get in line as soon as you get there, because there was a reason people were getting in line prior to the official start — it got long really fast. And once you figure out it will be some time for each group to get in, stomp around a little, take the obligatory pictures; you realize this will be one long afternoon. Well, we drove all this way, we are going to crush some grapes gosh darn it.
We look around and see all the people that must have done this before. They brought their own canopies, chairs, tables, etc. I jealously feel that they all look so comfortable…and cool. We were sweltering already. What the heck, all the wine tasting booths were surrounding us, what shall we try first? But because of the heat, and knowing too much wine will make us loopy, we decide to settle for a glass of some very tasty Sangria. Hey, I’m the driver, so I need to be responsible and take care of my gals.
Even though it was miserably hot, we did have a great time waiting under the hot sun for almost two hours. Primarily due to, as Lynn said, a “wildly entertaining group of three women.” These women, with Italian heritages, had driven to Julian with their husbands from San Gabriel, a Los Angeles valley suburb. We got to talking with them (what else are you going to do but make new friends) and shared funny and true stories about life, marriage, family, kids, sex, and aging. They talked about their lives, we talked about ours, and we commiserated together — about the weather, what people were taking way too much time stomping in the barrel (that chick in the white tee – you know who you are), and is this stomping thing sanitary?
The ladies very generously shared their beach umbrella with us, all six of us squeezing under our shaded territory, which was very much appreciated. There were the occasional and welcomed cool breezes, and we kept seeing some clouds in the distance and wished for them to hurry our way and provide relief from the sun. Their husbands were sitting relaxed in tree-shaded chairs. One of the event volunteers starting going around and spritzing us with a spray bottle, just like what we would do for the kids when they are playing games on hot days.
Yes, we are almost there! Hold on, you mean all those people who paid for the $50 VIP tickets get to cut in line whenever they want? Reminds me of the Disneyland Fast Pass. I am ready to strangle someone since I thought we were next, yet it seems all these VIP ticket holders decide to show up right at our moment! Please hurry up and go back to your white tents and appetizer filled tables. We should have paid the extra, but then we wouldn’t have met Marie, Carmella and Sylvia.
Okay, we are next. Finally. First, we need to soak our feet in a tub of vodka, I assume to sterilize our feet. Well, I don’t know how many people stuck their feet in there, but it doesn’t look very clean itself. I bravely stick my feet in. Oh well, the grape juice collected isn’t for consumption anyway. It’s bottled as a souvenir for next year.
In we go…I slowly climb down the ladder as it seems slippery…I stick my right foot in, then my left…hmm, mushy feeling. Gigi and Lynn get in, we take a few pictures. Then Marie, Carmella and Sylvia get in, their husbands having walked over to watch. More photos. We stomp around, trying to look like we are actually crushing grapes. By the time we get in most of the whole bunches have been crushed, but we find a few in the bottom recesses of the large barrel using our toes. We stomp around a bit, and take more pictures. We want to take our sweet time, heck we waited so long in the first place, but we are also aware that many more are waiting for their turn. Basically, we want to make it worth our while.
Time to get out. As we get out of the barrel, we were glad we experienced it, but ready to go on. Hugs and goodbyes were wholeheartedly given to our new friends, as we go our separate ways, but living through common memories.
The ice cream line was too long, it was still hot, and we weren’t in the mood to shop the vendor booths. So now what? Time to head back down the hill for a stop at the Julian Pie Company in Santa Ysabel. Hey, what else would you expect from me? Of course, as we leave, the rain clouds start to mosey on over and cause a bit of trouble. We get to Santa Ysabel just in time to get out of the pouring rain, sit at the counter and comfortably scarf down apple pie slices with vanilla ice cream, pure deliciousness.
Once fulfilled, we make a quick stop at Dudley’s Bakery, because if you’re driving all this way, you’re going to get some fresh bread and baked goods too. My parents will be happy with the squaw bread and coffee cake rounds. Quite content, we get into our cars for the leisurely drive home…so we thought.
Almost immediately after getting back on the road, our phones start squeaking about the flash flood warnings for the area. And wouldn’t you know it, the clouds opened up on top of us at that very moment, and for the life of me I could not see the roads. That’s what you call a timely app! Being the responsible driver that I am, I decide to pull over and wait it out. It died down about 15 minutes later, but still heavily raining. As we start to leave the area, I carefully try to drive through the roads and mini-rivers of water. At one point it looked like some sort of water tank fell into the road. Where the heck did that come from?
It wasn’t that much further that it was dry as a martini. Was it our imagination? Couldn’t have been, because my car looked clean from the natural car wash. Oh well, it seems none of these adventures ever go smoothly.
Oh, remember the I Love Lucy episode, well Lucy returns to their hotel room all messed up and grape stained, meanwhile Desi had the producer waiting for her. But after seeing her, he informs her the movie isn’t about winemaking because the title for the film was a metaphor. He was actually looking for someone to play the part of a typical American tourist. Therefore, he gives the role to Ethel. Lesson here, bitter grapes isn’t worth your energy.
Although both Julian Pies and Dudley Bakery items are now found in many local grocery and specialty stores, visit Julian Pie Company locations in Julian and Santa Ysabel, www.julianpie.com and Dudley Bakery in Santa Ysabel, which also has a deli and gift shop, www.dudleysbakery.com. Both can be found at the intersection of Highways 78 and 79 in Santa Ysabel, CA.
I Love Lucy episodes available on cbs.com, Hulu, and Netflix DVD.