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.
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We’ve selected a couple of fun events where you can experience crush first-hand:
Sonoma Valley CRUSH
, Sonoma County: September 2017
Join 13 wineries in Sonoma Valley this September for an unforgettable harvest experience. Get involved, hands-on. Meet the Winemakers, learn about harvest and taste amazing wines. Wineries will be Grape Sampling in the vineyards, offering Crush Pad tours, sampling Fresh Pressed Juice and grapes picked fresh off the vine. You may even have an opportunity to taste a wine while it’s fermenting and learn how to read a Refractometer to gain a deeper understanding about the importance of the balance between sugar and acid levels in wine grapes. This is an amazing opportunity to learn all about harvest!
North East Wine Country Harvest Festival
, Pennsylvania: September 22nd – September 24th, 2017
Sample 100 different wines, enjoy the sounds of dozens of entertainers, try your luck at grape stomping, and meander through hundreds of exhibitor tents. Part street fair, part arts and crafts festival, part music festival, part harvest festival, today’s WineFest hosts an average of 20,000 visitors from Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York, Ontario, and beyond who come to sample the best wines from the region and experience a weekend celebration of music, art and the fruits of the vine!
Schweiger Vineyards & Winery Harvest Stomp
, Napa Valley: September 28 and October 6, 2017
Stomp the grapes at Schweiger Vineyards during their two annual harvest stomps while tasting the wines produced by the winery. Attendees will learn more about making wine from Vintner Fred Schweiger and Winemaker Andy Schweiger, which makes it worth the $225 ticket ($180 for members). The Schweiger family will let you pick grapes, show you how measure sugar levels in the grapes and teach you more about farming techniques. Lunch will be provided after the stomp.
V. Sattui Winery Crush Party
, Napa Valley: October 7, 2017
See the behind-the-scenes workings of crush and harvest at V. Sattui Winery in Napa Valley during the annual crush party. Get ready to stomp grapes with bare feet because the winery will host an “old-fashioned grape stomp.” There will also be an open house, live music, the opportunity to grape meet growers and winemakers and food from the wood-fired pizza ovens and Tuscan grill.
Paso Robles Wine Weekend
, Paso Robles Wine Country: October 20 to 22, 2017
Celebrate harvest happiness. Enjoy 100 plus events spanning three incredible days.
Harvest in Paso Robles Wine Country is a time of excitement and celebration. The changing colors of the vines, crisp autumn air and the promise of a new vintage create a wine country experience not to be forgotten.