Harvesting and Crushing Grapes: Understanding the Process and the Equipment You Will Need
Harvesting grapes must not be too difficult: you probably pick them and then deposit them into some kind of container, right? That's part of the process, but it's not quite that simple. Understanding grapes' growth cycle and when to pick them is essential to winemaking success. For grapes, the first important milestone in the harvest process is called the veraison, which is simply the point at which the grapes begin to change color.
Veraison — when grapes change from hard green balls to the juicy orbs we know and love, signifying that they are ripening — was originally a French term that was adopted into the English language. If you've ever seen blackberry bushes in the American South produce miniature green berries that turn red and eventually black, you've witnessed a type of veraison. In the world of grape cultivation, veraison is an important moment in a grape's lifespan: it means, to the vineyard owners, that the harvest is just around the corner. This is an ideal time for the winemaker to gather equipment and prepare for the upcoming harvest.
When you're an amateur winemaker or a seasoned professional, this is the moment you've been waiting for: the harvest! When your grapes have reached the point of veraison, you will want to decide how to pick them. In Italy, winemakers typically pick grapes by hand to avoid damaging the plants. If this is your first harvest, make sure to select your equipment beforehand. Order it well in advance and ensure that it's clean and ready to be used on the morning of the harvest.
Some winemakers use the term “crush” to refer to the whole harvest season from veraison to the actual crushing of the grapes and fermenting of the juice, and others use it to mean only the literal act of crushing the grapes. When crushing, certain types of wines — such as white varieties — require the grape juice to avoid exposure to the skin of the fruit. If you're making red wine, leaving the skin in contact with the juice and fermenting them together results in a different flavor. If you've ever seen somebody crush grapes with their feet (like in that iconic episode of I Love Lucy) in blatant disregard of whether the skins are in the mix, they're probably preparing the grapes to make red wine.
Now that you're versed in harvesting vocabulary, you will need to read up on different types of equipment used for picking grapes and turning them into wine. Here are several types of equipment designed for the process:
Picking grapes by hand and cutting your selection of fruit from the plant with handheld pruning shears
is preferable, as this method will allow you to be specific in selecting exactly the grapes you want to use in your wine. It will also result in the least amount of damage to the plant.
Make sure the buckets or bins you choose to store your grapes are clean. You'll want to choose buckets with handles, as you might be carrying them for a while. Those little grapes are heavier than they look! Check out this sturdy red one imported from Italy.
Crushers and Destemmers
You may want to consider a combination crusher and destemmer. They range from small and manual types to more complex and expensive specimens designed for the professional winemaker. Here is a manual one
that is incredibly budget-friendly.
You've memorized important winemaking vocabulary like veraison, harvest, and crush. You've gathered a list of tools you will need to pick your own grapes. Take the final step by purchasing your harvesting and crushing equipment, along with any other winemaking supplies you might need, from More Beer! today.