By CHERIL VERNON
In the classic 1950’s television show “I Love Lucy,” Lucy Ricardo (played by Lucille Ball) inadvertently ends up in a vineyard where she and an assortment of Italian-speaking women crush grapes with their bare feet — with her usual hilarious antics and facial expressions that made her a comedic legend.
On Saturday, a group of five ladies dressed up like Lucille Ball in that episode for a look-alike contest and several others of all ages enjoyed stepping into a galvanized tub filled with grapes for Sabor a Pasion Country House & Bistro inaugural Charity Grape Stomp.
“It went really, really well. We had a good turnout all day and had great groups playing music,” Sabor a Pasion Country House & Bistro owner and chef Simon Webster said. “The evening ended with everyone dancing in the vineyards.”
The Grape Stomp was the final event in Sabor a Pasion’s Harvest Week celebration, which coincided with the City of Palestine’s 12 Day of Christmas in July festivities.
The event benefited the Montalba and Elmwood volunteer fire departments as Webster’s thank you to the VFDs for saving his property during the wildfires that burned thousands of acres in the area in 2011.
“We are going to do this annually to raise money for the Montalba and Elmwood volunteer fire departments,” Webster said.
Local business owner Linda Dickens was one of the first people to step her feet into the tub of grapes.
“It was wonderful slipping and sliding while the grapes were between my toes,” Dickens joked about her experience. “The whole week of Christmas in July in Palestine has been great and it was a good start to bringing more business to downtown Palestine.”
Julie and David Carmichael of Woodsboro were in Palestine for a mini-vacation to visit family. Several people suggested they attend the Grape Stomp while in town.
“I’ve only seen (grape stomping) on ‘I Love Lucy’ show, so we thought we would check it out. It was fun,” Julie Carmichael said, even though she stepped on a bee while stomping the grapes. To commemorate their experience, they purchased a t-shirt with their grape-stained footprints.
They planned to finish their evening in Palestine at Red Fire Grille, as David Carmichael is the brother of Dawn Mailloux, wife of Red Fire Grille’s executive chef Christian Mailloux.
“It will be pretty cool wearing the t-shirt and sharing the story of how each of our footprints were made on it,” Julie Carmichael said.
One of the youngest adventurers to step her bare feet in the tub of grapes was 15-month-old Chloe Costlow, twin daughter of Traci and John Costlow.
“We’ve known Simon for a while, living out here on (CR) 404. We have come over here from time to time to see how they’ve grown and have helped pick the grapes,” Traci Costlow said.
Throughout the whole day and evening, about 150 people attended the Charity Grape Stomp, as the sun set on the hill behind the vineyard.
“People at first were a little scared to stomp on the grapes, because they weren’t sure what it was going to feel like, but then they realized it wasn’t that bad after all. It worked well and even little kids were doing it,” Webster said.
The University of Texas at Tyler Palestine nursing student Amber Scheppler, 30, of Montalba, won first place in the “I Love Lucy” Grape Stomp Look-alike Contest.
“Me and my friend (Rebecca Couch of LaRue) saw the advertisement and decided to come out. We love wine and have always wanted to stomp grapes,” Scheppler said. “We looked at the episodes and found a few places to go to get the clothing. We need a break from school and thought it would be a fun thing to do. We decided if we won, we would split the prize with each other.”
Winning first place, Scheppler won dinner for two — for her and her friend — at Sabor a Pasion and a special “I Love Lucy” wine glass.
“With my hair color, I had an unfair advantage. I’m glad other people dressed up too. It was a lot of fun,” the strawberry-blonde Scheppler said.
Donna Flynt of Frankston won second place.
“I has fun shopping for the contest. I even died my hair for the Grape Stomp,” Flynt said.
Dixie Dorsett, who had Lucille Ball’s facial and body expressions down pat for the contest, came in third place out of the five contestants.
“It was wonderful, very fun,” Dorsett said.
Webster expressed his gratitude to those who participated in the contest.
“I think they put a lot of effort into it and made it a lot of fun,” Webster said.
Music was provided for the day by the Fence Post Pickers, acoustic guitarist Alex Graser; and Matt James and Kenneth Irwin from Blacktop Mojo.
Some of the vendors included Stanley’s Famous Bar-B-Q, Bon Appetit, Granny Muffin Wines, Sweet Dreams Winery and Go Texan.
Helping the VFDs
Webster began piecing together his dream of owning a vineyard in the fall of 2010, planting 750 vines from Fairhaven Vineyard in Hawkins — half Blanc du Bois and half Lomanto.
Over the past three years, the problems that arose with the vines were as unimaginable as the dream. There were the 750 plastic tubes he made to keep the deer from eating the plants, the endless yards of gardening tape used to guide the growth of the vines, the countless number of leaves, stems and grape bunches that were trimmed to nurture proper growth, and miles of wire used to support the heavy branches.
The biggest loss came after the summer of 2011 when approximately 100 vines were lost to drought. Webster feared more had died and he had to wait all until the spring of 2012 to discover just how many survived.
It also was in the late summer of 2011 that the entire property was threatened by wildfires that burned thousands of acres in Anderson County.
For several days the area around Anderson County Road 404 had fires spreading down the road. Where Sabor a Pasion is located on the corner of county roads 404 and 406 the fire came as close as the driveway. The Montalba and Elmwood volunteer fire departments were able to keep the fires at bay.
“There were fires up and down 404 and they were jumping from one side of the road to the other,” Webster said. “It was really scary knowing that, depending on which way the wind was blowing, I could lose everything. Without those guys we wouldn’t be here today.”
In the months following the fire, Webster held a benefit dinner and dance to express his gratitude. In the back of his mind he had already decided that if he ever celebrated a grape harvest he would use that event as another way to express his gratitude to the two volunteer fire departments.
Representatives from both Montalba and Elmwood VFDs took part in Saturday’s Charity Grape Stomp.
“We really appreciate Simon putting this on for us. You never know when wildfires or things like that are going to happen,” Elmwood VFD’s Clyde Cunningham said, noting the donations the event raised will go toward fire protection and equipment.
Montalba VFD Captain Herbert Shugart explained local VFDs need all of the money they can get, as their funding comes only from donations and grants.
“It helps the fire department and in turn, helps the community,” Shugart said. “For example, a new motor in a truck is going to give us a better response time. If we don’t have a truck ready to roll, we can’t get to the fire.”
With an enormous amount of area to cover in rural areas — many people do not realize that most of Texas is covered by volunteer fire departments.
“Our paycheck starts and ends with a zero. If we didn’t love what we do, we wouldn’t do it. It’s our way to give back to the community and be a part of it,” Montalba VFD member Jennifer Jesse said.
Not only do volunteer fire departments handle structure fires and wildfires, the VFDs also are first responders to various emergencies ranging from wrecks, medical calls and other types of accidents.
“Many times we are the first people there and the last to leave,” Shugart said.
Besides the cost of the different kinds of fire trucks and gasoline, VFDs also must have equipment ranging from pagers and two-way radios to communicate with the Anderson County Sheriff’s Office to protective gear and extraction equipment (that can cost up to $10,000).
“We also set up landing zone for helicopters and do lift assists,” Shugart said. “If somebody falls or trips during the middle of the night and needs help, along with the EMS, we are the ones who go and help them get up.”
April Johnston of Granny Muffin Wines was one of the people attending the Charity Grape Stomp who hasn’t forgotten about the endless hours and dedication local VFDs put in during the 2011 wildfires in Anderson County.
“They fought long and hard and people need to remember that,” Johnston said.
Sabor a Pasion Country House & Bistro is located at 110 ACR 406 in Palestine. For more information, visit Sabor a Pasion on Facebook, online at www.saborapasion.com or call 903-729-9500.