Jason Cowan
The Union Democrat

Avery Donahue and Morgan Fissel, both 16, were working together on Saturday - in bright pink princess outfits - to smash grapes out of a barrel and drain the juice into a measuring cup at the Calaveras Grape Stomp in Murphys.

After the three-minute time limit expired, Donahue, with pulp sticking to her hands, smelling like grape juice, said she would drink the product - meant to determine who would advance to the next round.

"I feel like it would be the fun thing to do, to drink my making," said Donahue. "I tasted it already when the grape juice was all over me. It's a weird thing to say, but I liked it."

Weird was certainly the name of the game when it came to the grape stomp. Hundreds of people packed the streets all around the Murphys Community Club and Community Park to drink wine and watch people step on grapes wearing an array of costumes including ones that looked like bags of manure, Jeannie and Major Nelson from the "I Dream Of Jeannie" television show, and even in Oktoberfest get-ups.

Asked how the event is so successful, Donna Schantz, coordinator of the Calaveras Grape Stomp, said, "Year after year, I sort of ask myself the same question. It is unique, it is fun. People get really into winning and pumping juice, but it's still low key and it's still a hometown event."

Though the event may be weird, unique, uncommon, that's all part of its charm. The grape stomp - now in its 22nd year - has become a marquee event that is wide-reaching and can attract attendees from all over the country.

"We've had people from Europe, Australia, Hawaii, all of nationwide. Most of the stompers come from the Bay Area," Schantz said. "They get on the Internet, because we always ask on the form, 'How did you hear about it.' It's either referral, they came here one year, saw it and couldn't wait to stomp next year."

The stomp was formed in the early 1990s by a group of volunteers to support the local wineries - an industry that was much smaller than it is today. Now, it is not unusual for the event - which went through 5,200 tons of donated grapes Saturday - to exceed the size of the venue where it is held, but Schantz does not want to move it.

"We have outgrown the park many times," she said. "But we still think we're going to keep it in the park to keep that small-town atmosphere."

In addition to the competition that saw 120 teams participate this past weekend, the grape stomp featured a silent and live auction, wine tasting booths and a costume competition.

"People Google grape stomp and ours comes up. It's very rewarding," Schantz said. "They say ours looks like the most fun because there are other grape stomps and they always come to ours. It sticks out because the reputation of it being second to none."

Contact Jason Cowan at jcowan@uniondemocrat.com or 588-4531.

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