A Sticky, Giddy Grape-Stomping Session at Four Sisters Winery

Visitors flock to the Belvidere vineyards to roll up their pant legs and take part in some old-school squishing. (And, of course, a bit of sipping.)

Illustration of woman stomping grapes.
Illustration by Chanelle Nibbelink

Daisy Velez, from Union City, was there to cross it off her bucket list. Teresa Brown and Laurie Schmid, neighbors from Lopatcong Township, came on a whim, looking for something different to do. The 50 or so other people gathered at picnic tables under a white tent at Four Sisters Winery last October each had their own reasons for driving to bucolic Belvidere for the chance to climb into a wooden barrel and stomp grapes barefoot, visions of Lucy Ricardo dancing in their heads.

Fortunately, those reasons didn’t appear to include the making of wine. Though a vineyard stomping session might imply an encounter with grapes grown on the premises, nobody seemed disappointed to learn that the fruit around which they had planned their evening came from the local Stop & Shop rather than the winery’s sprawling acres of Concord vines, or that the mashed fruit of their labor would later be dumped rather than fermented into a luscious cabernet they could age in their basement. Even the downsized barrel, reduced to accommodate a single stomper in 2020 for social-distancing reasons, didn’t get anybody down. Kicking off their shoes and having a sticky good time was more the vibe.

Credit Matty Matarazzo, the winery’s proprietor and a third-generation New Jersey farmer. “It’s like a facial for your feet,” he says by way of pointing out the irrelevance of the grapes’ provenance. “Some people get in there, and they don’t want to get out.” (I guess so—if you like the feeling of walking through soggy cotton candy.)

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Matarazzo, 73, is not out to mislead the scores of grape stompers who visit his 250 acres twice a month for the chance to roll up their pant legs and get down to the business of old-school fruit crushing. But after his September harvest, grapes from the property—French-American hybrids, including chambourcin, seyval and cayuga—are in short supply. Thompson seedless make a suitable substitute, and by the time his guests are invited to step into the barrel, he and his staff have managed to turn their attention away from artisanal fussiness with their signature product anyway. The $42 admission fee buys a formal wine tasting and a tour of the Four Sisters vineyards, followed by a chicken parmigiana dinner (with more wine) and a sampling of the house dessert wines. That’s a lot of imbibing before the first table is called to approach the single barrel for stomping.

Little wonder, then, that several stompers needed a hand in and out of the wooden vessel. Or that many were laughing deliriously as their companions snapped cell phone shots of them mid-squish. They hadn’t quite matched Lucy in the mischief-making department, and nobody was wearing a peasant skirt or bandana, but try gripping grape pulp between your toes after you’ve thrown back a few glasses of the winery’s Beaver Creek Red, and see if you, too, don’t get a little giddy.

Velez left wanting more. “It was an awesome experience I’ll never forget,” she says while wiping her feet on the grass after a slippery 30 seconds of squishing. It was enough to satisfy her bucket list.

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