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“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.
For 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. Continue reading
Since white varieties are the main thing being harvested at this early point in the annual crush, it’s a good time to talk about whole-cluster pressing. You’ll see references to it in the wine maker notes for high-end white wines.
In white wine production, to keep the flavors delicate and free of astringency only the juice is fermented. So, standard procedure is to run the freshly-picked clusters through a machine that quickly pulls off the stems and breaks the grape skins open – a stemmer-crusher.
Then the crushed grapes are sent to the press, which is like a giant strainer. A whole lot of juice runs off into a drip pan on its own. When the flow begins to let up, pressure is applied to increase the yield. And, away the juice goes to a tank or barrel to be fermented.
But, high-quality whites often forgo the stemmer-crusher to be pressed immediately. I know it sounds like you save time, by skipping a step, but it actually slows the whole thing down significantly a bit. From a cellar worker’s perspective, it’s a pain. Continue reading
Question from Ericka: Someone told me that they make white wine out of red grapes. Is that true?
Reply: Hi, Ericka. Thanks for writing! Yup – it’s true. However, the vast majority of white wine is made from “white” (they look green or yellow-green when they’re ripe, like the grapes you get at the grocery) varieties.
Unfortunately, this is the wrong time of the year for me to show you that the juice of dark wine grapes is clear. All of the grapes are tiny and green right now. They’ll start changing color mid to late July. But, anyway, if you squeeze a dark grape you’ll see that the juice is just as clear as a tear drop almost every time (there’s a handful of dark grapes with red juice – they’re called teinturier
varieties – best known is Alicante Bouschet
The most famous example of white wine made from red grapes is sparkling wine. Of the three traditional grapes, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier, two are dark. The grapes are harvested at a low sugar, compared to grapes for table wine, so there’s little chance that the color will begin to bleed from the skins to the juice. Then, the grape clusters are pressed (squeezed) extremely gently, to separate liquid from solid. Et voilà – very pale white juice ready to be converted to wine! Blanc de Blancs is all Chardonnay. Blanc de Noirs and Rosé are Pinot Noir and/or Pinot Meunier.