Today’s Wine Word: Crush


“Crush” has just begun in Napa Valley. Kind of early this year – at least two weeks, if not more.

The term is used as a synonym for the harvest. And, of course, it brings to mind images of Lucy, madly stomping away on the purple moosh in a large vat, and over-competing with her co-worker.

If you want to appear in the know you’d say “I go to Napa Valley every year for crush.” Or “Of course, the weather during crush is has a huge impact on the vintage.”

But, when it comes to actual winemaking, I find that people are a little confused as to what crushing actually means. It’s very often confused with pressing.

DeltaE2_2002For winemaking, crushing is the first step , after the grapes are picked, for nearly all red wines and most whites. In most cases, the winemaker uses a stainless steel machine that first de-stems and then breaks the grapes open (crushes them.) The best producers will sort out the yucky stuff (don’t ask 😉 )before the clusters go into this machine. 

The stemmer-crusher has a horizontal, stainless steel drum full of perforations about the size of a quarter. The clusters are fed into the drum, which spins around. Inside the drum, there are rubber-tipped batons that rotate around in the opposite direction, so wind flow comes into play. But, the essence of it is that the batons knock the grapes off of their stems. They fall through the perforations and then pass through a couple of soft rubber rollers to break the skins. From there, the grapes go into a fermentation tank, skins seeds and all for reds. The stems are trapped inside the drum and kicked out the other end. The whites go on to the press – we can talk about that later – it’s like a giant strainer – to eliminate the skins and seeds. Many wineries will compost those stems and get them back to the vineyard.

Here’s a bonus wine word: When you break a grape open it’s called “must”. So, the pump that takes the grapes from the stemmer-crusher to the fermentation tank or the press is called a “must pump.”

So, that’s the crush! And – that makes three wine words for the price of one! 😉

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Filed under wine harvest, wine making, winegrowing

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