The How, When & Why

I thought this would be a good time to talk about wine presses and the role they play in home wine making. So often we get people asking questions about wine presses.... home winemakers wanting to know how to use one; which one they should buy, and so on. Hopefully, this article will clear up some of these issues.

Do I Really Need A Wine Press?

The first that thing that might be going through your mind after seeing this article is, "Wine press! Do I need a press just to make a little wine at home?" And, the answer is, "certainly not."

In fact very few people who make their own wine at home have a press. You can make wine by using the vast selection of packaged wine making juices that are available today--no pulp involved. Or, you can make wine using a few pounds of berries--very little pulp involved. Neither require using a wine press.

But with that being said, there are many types of fruits that could be handled much more easily and efficiently with the aid of a wine press. The first fruit obviously coming to mind is the ever-present wine grape.

If you are actually making wine from freshly-crushed wine grapes, whether it be Merlot grapes from California or Concord grapes from your own backyard, you may want to consider looking at getting a wine press. The volume of grapes required to make each gallon of wine almost dictates it--typically 12 to 16 pounds. That's a lot of pulp!

With wilder grapes such as Scuppernong or Fox grape, water is used to dilute the stronger flavor and acidity that these grapes have. So, not quite as much pulp is involved--usually 25-50 pounds--to end up with 5 gallons of wine. However, having a press even in these situations would still be of benefit in the sense that it would allow you to extract more juice and flavor from the grape's fiber, but this is a matter of production efficiency rather than a matter of wine quality.

The same is true with other fruit wines such as blackberries, strawberries, currants and others. These are all fruits that are diluted with water and sugar to bring them into balance. But again, flavor extraction can be improved by the incorporation of a wine press into the process.

You may simply be making a lot of wine from berries. For every 5 gallons of berry-type wine you make, you will need anywhere from 12 to 20 pounds of fruit. If you are making 40-50, maybe even a 100 gallons of berry wine of some type, you may want to invest in a wine press, just to make the process of handling the pulp quicker and easier.

Choosing The Right Wine Press

There are two basic styles of wine presses that are available to the home winemaker. The first being the ratchet design and the second being the cider design. Both are equally effective in squeezing the juice from the pulp.

Ratchet Design:

This particular type of wine press is normally associated with larger batches of homemade wine. Someone making 20 gallons or more at a time might want to consider this type of press.

What makes the style of this press unique is that it has a ratcheting head that works its way down a threaded, stationary shaft that is secured at the base of the press. This ratcheting allows you to easily apply the pressure necessary to separate the juice from the pulp.

The ratchet press will usually have a two-piece break-away basket design which will allow you to remove the spent pulp more quickly between pressings--again, facilitating anyone who intends to do many pressings per batch.

Cider Design:

This style of press is usually smaller and more appropriate for someone who is making 5 to 10 gallons at a time. It will press any kind of crushed fruit, not just apples. And, just like the ratchet press, this press has a center-threaded shaft, but it is the shaft that is being spun to apply the pressure, not a pressing head.

This type of press can apply just as much pressure as the ratchet press, however for someone who intends to do 10, 15 or even more pressings per batch it can become cumbersome. But, if you are making smaller batches this will not be much of an issue since you will only be doing 3 or 4 press runs per 5 gallon batch.

Using A Wine Press

As mentioned earlier, a wine press can be incorporated into the production of any type of wine. However, how and when the wine press is used can vary slightly from one style of wine to the next.

When Should I Press The Grapes?

Contrary to many novice beliefs, the wine grape is not always pressed at the very beginning of the wine making process. When making wine from red grapes, the grapes are usually pressed only after they have been crushed and fermented for a period of time--usually 4 to 7 days.

The amount of time the must is fermented on the crushed pulp will determine the resulting wine's color, body and flavor intensity. The pulp, and more specifically the skin of the grape is where most all of its color and body lies.

For the first 3 or 4 days of fermentation on the pulp, it is both color and body elements that are being extracted from the pulp and into the juice. After this time not much more color extraction is noticed, but a continual increase in flavor and--more particularly--body will be noticed.

Commercially made wines such as Zinfandel display an excellent example of what pulp fermentation can do to change a wine's character. The Zinfandel grape is actually a red grape. Yet, with this single, red grape the wine industry is able to produce a Red Zinfandel, Zinfandel Blush and a White Zinfandel. Three different wines all coming from the very same grape. The difference being the amount of time the crushed grape skins stayed in contact with the juice.

White wines--or wines made from white grapes--are normally both crushed and pressed at the very beginning of the winemaking process. The goal for most winemakers when making a white grape wine is to keep its character light, fruity and crisp. By eliminating the pulp from the fermentation process completely these characters will be more present within the wine.

However having said this, there are some exceptions. Heavier white grape wines will at times be fermented on the pulp for a short period of time. Some examples of these types of wines would be Chardonnay, Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc--white wines with very full body. These pulp fermentations usually are not done any longer than 3 days and most often less than 1 day.

It should also be noted that fermenting a white wine on the skins will intensify the yellow color of the wine, at times bringing it close to a straw color. So, if you do not prefer this type of color, you should stay away from fermenting white grape on the pulp.

When Should I Press Other Fruits?

Well, this would depend on the fruit and the character you are trying to bring out in the wine. The ideas are the same as described above with the red and white grapes; you just need to apply these ideas to the fruit you are dealing with.

For example, when making wine with apples, pears, gooseberries, grapefruit and such, you will probably want to eliminate the fiber and skin of the fruit in the very beginning. If you are making wine from darker fruits such as blackberries, raspberries, elderberries and such, you could ferment on the pulp for up to 8 or 9 days to produce a very heavy, bold wine. Or, you could ferment on the pulp for just 1 day to produce a lighter-bodied, blush wine with more fruity, crisp characters.

The choice is yours... this is part of what makes winemaking so fun and interesting. It is the adventure of being able to play around with all these little subtleties that allow you to make a wine that is special to you and something you can call your own.

How To Do A Pressing?

Pressing the grapes and other fruits is a fairly straightforward operation. Regardless of the type of press you are using, you start off by dumping the crushed fruit into the press basket.

The first thing that will occur when you do this is juice will start collecting and coming out of a spouted portion of the press's collector. So, have a bucket or fermenting vessel already in place before dumping in the crushed fruit to handle this immediate flow of juice. The juice that comes off on its own before actually pressing the pulp is known as the "free-run" juice.

You may find it more practical to drain the free-run away from the pulp even before dumping it into the press basket. This can easily be done by first putting the freshly crushed fruit in a fermenter or other vessel with a faucet at the bottom. Then use the faucet to drain the free-run away from the pulp. Then dump only the remain pulp portion into the press basket.

The free-run is often set aside by wineries and finished up separately and sometimes even bottled and sold separately. However, with the smaller batches that the typical home winemaker deals with, this may not necessarily be practical.

The free-run produces a softer, fruitier wine with slightly less color and considerably less body than then any press-run wine. It also matures more quickly. Wines made only from press-run juice tend to be richer, more earthy in character. Their body is fuller and their aroma less fruity but with a more herbal or organic impression.

In fact as the pressing plate becomes tighter and tighter on the pulp, the more intense these characters become incorporated into the juice. Each additional ounce of juice that is squeezed out becomes stronger and stronger even to the point of becoming too bitter. Which means that--yes--you can over press the pulp.

This is also a reason why you should consider keeping, at minimum, a portion of the free-run with the press-run--to offset any over pressing that occurs. Or, you can make the free-run and press-run juices into wine separately. And then at bottling time, blend them back together in a proportion that you determine by taste. While this is definitely more work and probably not to practical with smaller batches, it does give you full control of the body of the resulting wine.

A Few Words About Crushing The Fruit

There are no hard-and-fast rules about how the fruits should be crushed other than to say they should not be over-crushed. This rules out the use of food processors to blend or puree the fruit. Doing so will not only give you a very bitter wine with only marginal fruity flavors, but it will also give you a must that will take much longer to settle out once the fermentation has completed.

If you are making wine with berries you can often crush them sufficiently with just your hands or possibly a potato masher. You could also use the butt end of a 2X4 to crush them against the bottom of a pail. This is assuming of coarse the the 2X4 has been cleaned and sanitized first. Whatever means you can come up with that seems practical for you, go for it.

Just remember that the only goal here is to break open the skin of the fruit, anything more than this is just more work. With larger fruit such as peaches, grapefruits, apricots--cut them up first, pit if necessary, and then crush.

If you are dealing with larger batches of wine, 50 gallons and more, you may want to consider investing in a fruit crusher. A fruit crusher is a hopper that leads the fruit through two rollers which do the crushing.

The fruit crusher we offer also has rotating knives with the hopper as well, making it more suitable for larger, orchard fruits as well as berries and grapes.

We also have a great selection of wine making equipment and wine making supplies.