Getting Ready for Crush
by Lum Eisenman


Most professional winemakers develop a crush plan each year because they know hasty decisions made during a frantic crush can adversely influence wine quality. Home winemakers can also benefit from a crush plan, particularly if grapes will be purchased or if some equipment will be borrowed rented.


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
checked, and any missing materials should be ordered. Orders for supplies
should be placed early
because suppliers are very busy just before and during a crush session.

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.

Grape Processing

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
should never be broken or even cracked. Here is an easy method. Place a
clean plastic milk crate
on top of a clean plastic trash can. Pick up a double hand full of grapes. Place them over the milk crate and squeeze. Drop the grapes into the crate. Squeeze several hands full into the crate. Scrub the grapes and juice through the bottom of the crate with your hand. Remove the stems from the crate and then squeeze more grapes. All of the grape skins will not be broken but the whole grapes will not cause a problem.

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.

Fermentation Temperatures

High quality, fruity, white wines like Riesling, Muscat or Chenin Blanc are fermented at temperatures ranging from 50 to 65 degrees. Barrel fermented white wines such as Chardonnay are fermented at temperatures ranging from 60 to 70 degrees. Red wines are often fermented at 70 to 90 degrees. Making fruity white wines at high fermentation temperatures often produces disappointing results, so realistic fermentation plans are needed. Home winemakers should limit their production to red wines if fermentation temperatures cannot be maintained below 70 degrees.

Cap Management

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.

A good approach is to start each harvest season with a well-thought out plan, but always be flexible.