Participating in a Wine Crush
October 5, 2009 1:24 PM   Subscribe

Have you ever participated in a winery's grape crush? Or do you know what that entails? What happens at the winery? How hard is the work? How long does it take? Tell me what you know about crush!
posted by amanda to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (10 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I was just in a wine-growing region here in Hungary, and it was interesting (even in this small, rural place) to see a dumpster full of grapes get crushed and turned into juice by a big machine. The hard work was done mostly by the guys tossing the grapes into the machine - not much work, actually. It didn't take long. I don't know how they do it elsewhere, but this was a small family winery in a place without a lot of money (i.e., not like Napa Valley), so I would suspect the old idea of everyone's granny hopping into big buckets of grapes and stomping away is pretty much passé.
posted by Dee Xtrovert at 1:37 PM on October 5, 2009

I know it hurts if you fall out of the barrel.
posted by Liver at 2:04 PM on October 5, 2009 [1 favorite]

i went to university in the Niagara region, and every September during the Grape & Wine Festival, we had a grape stomp on campus. though it was just for fun (obviously), if you're going to being crushing grapes the old-fashioned way, be sure to shower really well once you're finished. my friends and i were itchy for a few days after the grape stomp, and some of my friends broke out in a kind of patchy rash.
posted by gursky at 2:09 PM on October 5, 2009

Best answer: My dad crushes his own grapes to make wine, and usually several people are helping out. He has this hand-cranked affair, like a large hopper with two cylinders that turn, that squooshes the grapes. One person has to crank the crusher, one person has to feed it grapes (and clear the grate of excess stems - too many stems and crap in the wine means too many tannins in the end product), and sometimes one other person to hold the contraption steady while the crushing process is underway.

So, the usual procedure for us is:
1) sterilize everything, including the crusher, the barrel the grapes will be going into, and anything else that might touch the grapes throughout the process.
2) Set up, get the lids off the crates of grapes, and set them nearby where the person feeding the crusher can reach them
3) start crushing, swatting away little nieces who marvel at the sweetness of wine grapes and want multiple tastes
4) the whole process takes a couple of hours, Dad does one batch (twelve crates of grapes) at one time.
5) take the crates outside, knock them apart and burn them so as not to attract wasps
6) once the grapes are crushed, measurements are taken (specific gravity, etc.), the lid is set on the barrel, and it is allowed to sit.
7) A couple of days later, the grapes will be poured into a great oaken pressing machine (also manual, I might add), and the juice allowed to run off the must and collected. This is first run, the clearest juice. Then the must is pressed, and the second run collected.
8) Specific gravity is tested again, adjustments made (for sweetness and acidity), and the juice is put in carbuoys to begin the first fermentation.

All told, the crushing and pressing takes a week, but only a couple of hours of actual work for each thing. Obviously, a winery is processing vastly larger amounts than we are, but we like to kick it old school, you know?

I hope this helps!
posted by LN at 2:09 PM on October 5, 2009

Sometimes this happens.
posted by illenion at 2:32 PM on October 5, 2009

Response by poster: illenion, that's a classic!

Yes, I do know that hopping into a barrel and crushing with your bare feet is, sadly, unlikely to happen. So the answer from LN about what *does* happen is very informative!
posted by amanda at 2:36 PM on October 5, 2009

Best answer: I used to work in Sonoma--not in the wine biz--but every year around this time the air would have a wonderful smell from the "crush". Most of the large commercial wineries have everything mechanized after the grapes are harvested (the grapes themselves are mostly cut off the vine by hand using a wicked-looking curved blade). The hoppers of harvested grapes are fed by conveyer belt to be crushed in large, stainless steel machines with rotating blades. Here's a nice overview.
posted by agatha_magatha at 2:50 PM on October 5, 2009

the Menghini Winery in Julian, CA (an hour east of San Diego) has a public Grape Stomp Festa every year! unfortunately, we just missed it.
posted by changeling at 3:59 PM on October 5, 2009

Best answer: I worked at a small, family-owned winery for about seven years as a teenager.

I'd agree with everything LN says--that's about how it works at a commercial outfit, as well.

Grapes, in my experience, are harvested mechanically--basically there's a machine that sort of straddles the vines and shakes them, vacuuming up the grapes and funneling them to a container. The container is on the back of a tractor, and the tractor driver has to match his speed to the speed of the harvester. Other people direct the flow of grapes and, if I recall correctly, control the direction of the chute from which the grapes fall.

For large operations, there's generally a mechanized conveyer belt that transports the grapes into the crusher. Smaller operations will generally dump them in, box after backbreaking box.

Commercial crusher/destemmers (one machine usually does both jobs) are large, intimidating machines, and are quite loud. When we were crushing there was always a not-insignificant concern that one of us would slip and get injured--these machines could take off a hand without too much trouble. The crusher that we used was basically a giant trough with a blade in the middle, almost like a drill bit. (Like in this picture, actually, only industrial sized.) It works pretty much like you'd think it would, and the juice is moved to tanks, where it hangs out for a while before the winemaking begins.

Commercial processing isn't especially interesting or romantic, in my opinion--it's loud, potentially dangerous, and mostly involves standing around watching a bunch of machines. If you're attending something that's publicized as a grape crushing, it's entirely possible that the winery has some sort of special program--I've known of more than one that has a public grape crushing, and people do indeed use their feet. (The juice from those crushings is then discarded, as I believe that modern regulation prohibits the presence of excessive toe jam in wine.)

If you're going to actively participate in a commercial grape crushing, the difficulty and time involved would vary greatly from place to place. Some places are almost entirely mechanized, so your primary job is pushing buttons and making sure that conveyers run smoothly. Other places are far less mechanized, and tasks involved could range from clearing detritus from the destemmer to helping carry and dump crates of grapes. Some places have their juice running off in buckets that are manually dumped into tanks--you could be doing that. Some places use manual destemmers, so you could be cranking one of those. The smaller the operation is, the more likely that they're going to fall into the "less mechanized" category. Grape crushing can be pretty physically demanding--grapes are heavy, buckets of juice are heavy, cranks start out light, but get heavy after an hour or so. It's manual labor, and has all the trials and joys that come with that. (That's sincere, by the way--there's something fantastic about being totally bushed and sitting down with a cup of juice that you've helped produce.)

If you're participating in some sort of grape crushing, I'd strongly suggest calling the winery and asking exactly what it entails. It may be an educational tour in which they open up the winery and allow you to watch the process; it may be participatory and physically demanding; it may be a tourist-friendly grape stomp. There's not much context with this question, so I'm unable to guess at what it might be. If it's a commercial winery that's opening itself up to the general public, you can probably assume that it's either an educational tour or a grape stomp. If the winery is owned by friends or or you've answered some sort of help wanted ad, you can probably assume that it's a manual labor thing.

With all that said, due to the potential for injury, I can't imagine most wineries allowing the general public assist with the crush. It doesn't sound like the sort of thing any insurance policy would cover, and one person fooling around could have the potentially to bankrupt the winery.
posted by MeghanC at 7:43 PM on October 5, 2009

Response by poster: Thanks, MeghanC! That was super informative. And that's kind of more along the lines of what I figured. I've got two potential opportunities to participate in a "crush" -- one is a friend who does amateur winemaking (but buys pinot grapes and makes a huge amount of wine -- hundreds of bottles) and another who is part of a small but established winery doing sales in wine shops/online, etc. So, definitely more commercial but perhaps less hugely industrial.

I really don't think I would ever be interested in doing a "crush" with my feet. Having participating in the making of a few cob structures, just the thought makes my toes ache!
posted by amanda at 9:10 PM on October 5, 2009

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