Ready for Crush
The first step in developing a crush plan is to decide what kinds and quantities of wine will be produced. These decisions should be made early in the season. Once these decisions are made, the winemaker can estimate the varieties and quantities of grapes needed. Then, sources of outside fruit should be contacted. Grape purchase arrangements should be made early, preferably before the 4th of July. Always discuss harvest criteria, cost of the fruit, who will pick, etc. with the grower. Understanding that harvest times cannot be scheduled is important. Picking times are determined by vineyard location, the weather, irrigation schedules and many other factors, and many of these factors are unpredictable. Precise harvest schedules are not possible, so conscientious winemakers periodically check on how the grapes are ripening.
The minimum supplies
needed to start small fermentations are Clorox, sulfite, tartaric acid and
wine yeast. Other winemaking supplies such as citric acid, ML culture,
sulfite, Bentonite, gelatin, Sparkolloid,
other finning materials, TSP, Clorox, filter media,
laboratory chemicals, etc. should be
Home winemakers often get together and purchase supplies in commercial quantities to reduce costs. For example, a 500-gram package of Prise de Mousse yeast sells for about $10.00, and a 5-gram packets sell for $1.00. If very much wine is made, 5-gram packets are an expensive way of buying yeast.
The winemaking equipment should be taken out of storage, assembled and carefully inspected well before the first grapes of the season are picked. Any needed repairs should be made, and the equipment should be scrubbed down with TSP (buy at paint stores). The equipment should then be carefully rinsed (at least three times) and drained completely. Tanks and containers should be checked for leaks and carefully cleaned. Special attention will be needed if barrels have been stored empty. Arrangements for borrowing or renting winemaking equipment should be made several weeks ahead of the crush session. After the arrangements have been made, the winemaker should continue to keep in touch with the supplier. This way, last minute surprises about the equipment availability can often be avoided.
Grapes Are Perishable
Oxidation and biological changes start when the grapes are picked, so grapes should be processed quickly. An exception to the above rule sometimes occurs when grapes are picked late on a warm day. Hot fermentations are often disastrous, so in this situation, letting the fruit sit overnight to cool down may be the lesser of two evils. Try to avoid warm fruit. Talk to the grower. Get to the vineyard early in the morning on picking day. If a grower provides warm fruit year after year, find another supplier. However, be realistic, sometimes picking grapes late in the day is unavoidable.
Add a level, « tsp measure of sulfite powder for each 100 pounds of fruit. Dissolve the sulfite in a small amount of water, and add it to the grapes as they are being crushed. If the fruit is hot or contains much rot, use twice as much sulfite.
Crushing can be done
by hand, by foot or by machine. The general idea is to break the grape skins
so the juice can flow. The pulp and skins should not be ground into small
pieces and the seeds
Be prepared to test the fruit when it is crushed so any necessary pre fermentation adjustments can be made. Pre fermentation acid adjustments should be made using tartaric acid, not acid blend. Sugar adjustments should be made with ordinary white, household sugar. But, the grapes are not mature if sugar additions are needed, and immature grapes produce poor quality wine.
fruity, white wines like Riesling,
Red wine production requires careful cap management. For small fermentations, the usual procedure is to punch down the cap by hand. A minimum of two punch downs per day is desirable. Frequent punching down can extract more color, tannin and flavors, so some winemakers punch down every few hours when making full-bodied red wines.
Determining exactly when to press red fermentations is an important part of the winemaking art. Light, fruity, red wines are usually pressed when the sugar ferments down to a few Brix. Full-bodied red wines are often pressed at zero Brix. Under most conditions, pressing a little too early is better than pressing too late.
Lots of things can
and often do go wrong during a crush season, so make a crush plan. However,
be prepared to change your plan if the grapes are not suitable for the
intended style of wine. Sometimes grapes are picked too early or too late,
and changes in the plan are needed. Trying to make a big red wine from
under-ripe grapes is unrealistic. Using under-ripe fruit to make a blush wine
is often a better alternative.