Time to stomp grapes at Menghini Winery in Julian

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Last Saturday, there was no better way to tear the kids away from their electronics, other than by promising they could get dirty head to toes in a vat full of grapes. Stomping the grapes is a traditional way of smashing the fruits to make wine, although the wineries now days use modern technologies to separate the skin from the grape. Many of us still remember the famous scene performed by Lucy Ball in “Bitter Grapes” where she ends up in a wrestling match with another woman inside the vat.

Last Saturday, there was no better way to tear the kids away from their electronics, other than by promising they could get dirty head to toes in a vat full of grapes. Stomping the grapes is a traditional way of smashing the fruits to make wine, although the wineries now days use modern technologies to separate the skin from the grape. Many of us still remember the famous scene performed by Lucy Ball in “Bitter Grapes” where she ends up in a wrestling match with another woman inside the vat. Well, Menghini Winery in Julian offered just that, an exciting opportunity to recreate the same exact scene by allowing its guests to wrestle inside two vats full of freshly harvested grapes. The Grape Stomp Festa celebrated its 21st anniversary with a “Lucy Look-Alike” contest, dancing, family picnic and a Bocce Ball Court courtesy of “Roman Holiday” band performing Italian music while wearing Italian garb. Guests had their picks out of eight wineries offering sips for five bucks a glass and a couple of dozens food and general merchandise vendors from Julian.

“We had about 1,500 people here today,” said Jim Wayman, the chairman of the Julian Chamber of Commerce, who organized the event. “It was a lot of fun, but most importantly, we fundraised for charity while giving a chance to our local businesses to meet the community.”

Menghini Winery is the only property in Julian that has a Major Use Permit and therefore the only place that can host public events at such big scale. Mike and Tony Menghini offered the land for free for the past few decades not just to the Grape Stomp Festa, but also to all kinds of other public gatherings.

Tony Menghini used to be a flight attendant before she met Mike who always dreamed of having his own winery. He started out as a wine assistant with Callaway, then bought this land 34 years ago on six acres at the foothills of Volcan Mountain and now they “produce over 4,000 cases of wine every year: three reds, three whites and one desert wine.”  While everyone was walking around with a glass of wine, Menghini held a glass of beer and had some explaining to do.

“It takes a lot of beer to make a good wine,” he laughs, taking his cap off for an instant photo shoot. His assistant wine maker, Randy Myers, holds the keys to his winery and an Italian style boutique furnished in vintage and shabby chic and with an all-knowingly mischievous smile, introduces himself: “I am an assistant, which means I do everything around here. The best thing about my job is that I get to meet people from all over the world. Meyers is trading stories with a couple who are frequent guests here, Dan M. and Yoshi W. “We come here once a month. Why? Look at this place, you’d think you’re in Europe!” Dan M. gets up from his chair pointing out the door, a weathered green wooden boundary generously welcoming the later afternoon sun through its cracks and crevices. Yoshi W. adds that the company here is what makes the wine taste so good and that her favorites are the Sirah and Cabernet. 

Back outside, people are finding the raptor demonstration both educational and exciting. Kirsten Clibourne is greeting the visitors, while her husband, Cisco Clibourne, who is a master falconer, teaches people how to hold the birds and talks about training raptors as a natural method of pest management and bird abatement. The couple teamed up with Ryan Rubino, a wildlife photographer from Ramona, to educate the public and help growing their very young business. Present at the Festa is Pancho, a famous peregrine falcon who made it into the news and went viral last spring when it landed on a woman’s windshield on her way to the desert. Why Pancho? “Because of the Cisco TV show.” Cisco Clibourne started in this sport when he was 16 years old. “Falconry is the oldest sport known to men, but for me now it’s a way of life.” Clibourne captured his birds from the wilderness by himself. 

Just as the Clibournes who debuted “Talons LLC” about a year ago, Kathryn Spilman is new in business. She came home one day in 2016 to find out her husband just bought Julian Old Time Photo, a three decades old business whose owner wanted to retire. Spilman worked as a landscape photographer before. “I had to learn the business fast, in few weeks. We kept the old costumes and bought new ones from vintage stores. This is our second event and we couldn’t be more grateful for this opportunity to let people know about our business.”

An all around success, the Grape Stomp Festa 21st edition fulfilled its goal to entertain the community and most importantly, to help launch local businesses. Hundreds of people enjoyed the sunny day in the valley among old apple orchards and vineyards. The place looked idyllic with the grassy field and oak trees, the kids running around and stomping the grapes, with mothers breastfeeding their babies on picnic blankets in the shade, happy folks dancing away on Italian Canzonetta and people tasting wines and stakes. Holding a burger in one hand and a glass of Cabernet in the other, Thomas M. is asking to switch roles and claims to be the reporter: “Do you know the meaning of In Vino Veritas?” Of course, and this Menghini Moscato spells it out to perfection. Cin Cin!

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