Making wine the old-fashioned way at Central Illinois wineries

By Elise Zwicky For Chronicle Media

An upcoming grape stomping contest at Kickapoo Creek Winery requires participants to stomp grapes with bare feet, using no hands. The winery will host its 13th annual Grape Stomp Festival Aug. 31 to benefit Foster Pet Outreach and to kick off the harvest season. (Photo by Jeanette Brickner)

Wine is typically no longer made by stomping grapes, but two local wineries are giving people a chance to try that ancient, slippery ritual at upcoming grape stomping festivals.

The 13th annual Kickapoo Creek Winery Grape Stomp Festival runs from 12 to 5 p.m. Aug. 31 at 6605 N. Smith Road in Edwards. A day later on Sept. 1, Mackinaw Valley Winery will host its Grape Stomp and Harvest Festival from 12 to 6 p.m. at 33633 State Route 9 in Mackinaw.

“It’s a family-friendly event to get adults and kids alike together to have fun,” said Diane Hahn, who owns Mackinaw Valley Winery. “Many generations–kids, parents, grandparents–come out to enjoy this event.”

The iconic “I Love Lucy” episode that had Lucille Ball hilariously stomping grapes in Italy has put the activity on many people’s bucket lists, Hahn adds.

“We have a great outdoor space with the vineyards, the lake and the fields, and it really cheers people up to get outside and away from their daily responsibilities and just relax and connect and try something different,” she said.

At Kickapoo Creek Winery’s festival, teams of three will compete beginning at 3 p.m. to see who can produce the most amount of juice after five minutes of stomping. Stomping must be done with bare feet, no hands allowed. Contestants can hold on to nothing but their teammates during the process.

“It’s just a good way for friends to get together and do something fun and entertaining, and it’s also for a good cause,” said Kickapoo Creek Winery event coordinator Catie Doerr. All proceeds from the grape stomping contest will go to Foster Pet Outreach this year.

The contest is filled already, with nine teams paying $60 each to compete to win a $100 gift card to the winery’s tasting room, but Doerr said, “It’s a lot of fun to watch even if you’re not participating.”

Jeanette Brickner of Washington has firsthand knowledge about that, having attended a Kickapoo Creek Winery Grape Stomping Festival several years ago.

“It was fun watching other people get into the big tub to stomp grapes with their bare feet, but I was not about to do it,” Brickner said. “The thought of grapes squishing through my toes kind of grossed me out. I opted for a nice glass of wine inside. It was very relaxing.”

Participants in a previous year’s Grape Stomp and Harvest Festival at Mackinaw Valley Winery answer questions posed by winery owner Diane Hahn, dressed as Lucille Ball. This year’s event on Sept. 1 will also feature a Lucy look-a-like contest, face-painting and wine-making demonstrations. (Photo courtesy of Mackinaw Valley Winery)

Michelle Teheux of Pekin did climb into the vat to stomp grapes several years ago and confirmed it’s very slippery. “You want to be sure you don’t fall in the grapes,” she said. “I love the ‘I Love Lucy’ episode in which she’s stomping grapes, and I thought it was a hoot to do the same thing.”

Teheux added, “You really do feel glad that the activity is just for fun, and that no wine is going to be made from the grapes everyone’s sweaty feet have smashed. I think we’re so lucky to have wineries in our area. It isn’t just about the wine. They all have so many nice activities. You can enjoy them even if you don’t drink.”

At the Mackinaw Valley Winery Grape Stomping Festival and Harvest, visitors can sign up at the event for a stomping time in one of two large tubs that will be located near the stage by the lake or in the patio area of the Pavilion if the weather is bad.

“We host it rain or shine,” Hahn said, adding that the festival began in 2008. “We have two teams stomping at the same time with silly music playing by the band, and I dress as Lucy and act as Master of Ceremonies throughout the day. We have silly hats and props for people to dance with, and some people bring in their own costumes and props.”

Audience applause determines the silliest stomping or best dancing, with adult winners receiving grab bag prizes and kids winning candy.

“If people feel too shy to be part of the stomping competitions, we have little tubs for littler kids to try out stomping and adults can just get in those tubs and try it out, too,” Hahn added.

Contestants in a previous year’s Grape Stomp Festival at Kickapoo Creek Winery stomp grapes with their bare feet to try to create the most amount of juice. This year’s event on Aug. 31 will also feature live music, wine tasting for adults and activities for kids. (Photo courtesy of Kickapoo Creek Winery)

Mackinaw Valley Winery also hosts a Lucy look-a-like contest beginning at 3:30 p.m. “We usually have 10 to 15 kids and adults dressed up, and there’s a $50 prize split between the adult and child winner,” Hahn said. People can sign up for the contest throughout the day.

Beyond the $5 admission fee to the festival, there are no extra fees for grape stomping or the Lucy look-a-like contest at the Mackinaw Valley Winery.

The Mackinaw event will also feature face-painting and demonstrations on how the winery’s grapes are harvested and made into wine.

“We just hope that people bring their friends and a sense of adventure and humor. This is a really fun and family-friendly event,” Hahn said.

West MacQueen Street Band will be performing at the Kickapoo Creek Winery’s Grape Stomp Festival. A $10 admission price for adults and $5 for kids 12 and under will include three wine samples for adults and non-alcoholic slushies for kids.

The event will also feature bubbles and other kid-friendly activities.

“It’s a good day to come out and try some wine, eat some good food, listen to good music and just have a great time,” Doerr said. “We’re going to roast a pig this year, so that’s something kind of fun and different than we usually do.”

 Going to The Stomps

For more information about the Kickapoo Creek Winery Grape Stomp Festival, visit the winery’s Facebook page or website at or call 309-495-9463.

Admission to the Mackinaw Valley Winery Grape Stomping Festival and Harvest is $5 per person with 12 and under free. For more information, visit the winery’s Facebook page or website at or call 309-359-9463.