We’re entering that time of year in wine country where “crush” gets thrown around. Not a word one typically uses after they leave high school. But in the land of wine it signals the beginning of one of the best times of year. But outside of the I Love Lucy images of the old world tradition of crushing with your bare feet, there are much more modern practices happening during harvest season. We thought we’d give you a rundown of what crush means in wine country!
Definitions of crush vary from winemaker to winemaker. Some loosely refer to crush as the entire harvest from picking the grapes in August through November to the time when the wine is in the bottle. But it’s more typically defined as picking and crushing the grapes, which is more complicated than many realize.
The grapes start to change colors during middle to late summer, usually in July and August. Unlike other types of farmers, grape growers want their vines to hold less grapes because the grapes ripen more and be higher quality. Fewer leaves on the vines is also desirable so the fruit gets more sun exposure. As the grapes ripen, the amount of sugar in the fruit increases and those sugars will ferment into alcohol eventually. Winemakers will closely monitor the grapes to determine when the grapes have ready to be picked and might even taste them or test them in a lab for sugar and pH levels.
Pick Me, Pick Me
The weather also has a huge effect on when the grapes are picked and the date can easily vary every year. No one wants a severe storm to wipe out the vineyards. Grapes for sparkling wines are usually picked first with grapes for dessert wines are typically the final ones picked. For high-quality and/or small-production wines, grapes are still usually picked by hand which requires a lot of labor. For most mass-production wines, the grapes are harvested by machine for the sake of time. The biggest downside to harvesting by machine is that the grapes have to be sorted for quality and ripeness and to remove debris after they are picked.
We’ve Got A Crush
Stainless-steel machines await the arrival of the grapes and once the highest quality grapes have been sorted, the crush can officially begin. Crushing the grapes and letting the juice come out allows the yeast to start fermenting, which is a key part of the winemaking process. For many white and sparkling wines, the grape juice cannot be exposed to the grape skins but for most other types of wines, mixing the juices and the skin during fermentation is very important. Pressing grapes instead of crushing them can help prevent the juices from mixing with the skins.
Instead of using bare feet to crush the grapes, most wineries now use crusher-destemmer machines to crush and remove the stems from the grapes. The grapes are funneled from containers into the machine, destemmed and then crushed. Then the grapes move into containers for fermentation. The crush is over and the grape juice is on its way to becoming wine.