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Grape to Glass - Crushing the Grapes

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So far in Grape to Glass, we’ve covered picking the grapes, an unheralded but extremely important step in the process of turning grapes into wine. In keeping with this, we’re now going to dive into crushing the grapes, another step that’s critical to the quality of wine that doesn’t get as much hype as other parts of the process.

To start, here’s a fun fact: to this day, no one has discovered a better tool for crushing red grapes than the human foot. In fact, a very common machine used for crushing at scale literally has feet shaped crushers made from a substance that approximates the squishiness of human feet. These sit at the end of pistons, which rapidly raise and lower the fake feet, applying the same pressure real foot. The result is much faster than crushing by foot, but it is still not superior.

The cost of hiring a whole team of people to crush with their feet, in most places, makes the practice too expensive. Many winemakers still prefer this method, however, such as Elena Pantaleoni, maker of Pisador (literally “the one trodden by foot”), a true gem made from país in the Maule Valley of Chile.

The reason for this is that feet are the perfect shape and firmness to crush the grapes and break the skin, while not crushing the seeds, or “pips.” Pips contain an extreme amount of tannin and other bitter compounds. Any more than a few breaking during crushing can taint the wine.

Crushing red grapes and white grapes are two very different processes. With red grapes, the goal is to remove as much juice from the grapes as possible without breaking the pips, but to then leave much of the skins in the must through fermentation. Therefore, crushing by foot, or in a manner that approximates doing so, is the ideal method. With white grapes, the skins should spend little to no time at all in contact with the skins - unless the winemaker wants to make a skin-contact white, in which case, he or she would treat the white grapes as red grapes.

To do this, a winemaker has a special press that allows for a “free run” of the juice. Basically, the press has grooves in it and sits not quite level. The slight angle of the press allows the juice to flow out while leaving the skins in the press. The juice gets collected and is then taken to begin the fermentation process. All of this happens in a low temperature, low oxygen environment to ensure maximum freshness.

To wrap up, let’s talk a bit about Rose. This pink deliciousness is generally made from red grapes, but in a manner more similar to white wine. If the grapes have thicker skins with more color, like cabernet sauvignon, then free pressing will yield a pink juice. If the grape used has thin skins, like pinot noir, then they are crushed like red grapes. However, instead of keeping the skins involved through the fermentation process, a winemaker would remove the them after the color and flavors desired are achieved.

So next time you enjoy a glass of wine, marvel for a minute at the care and attention paid to every part of the process. Often it is these seemingly mundane steps where much of the magic happens!

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Wine Club February 2019 - Tinta de Toro!

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It’s time for Wine Club again! We’ve gone back to the Old World this month with a region we love dearly, Toro. Winter is still going strong, so we’ve chosen a region renowned for rich, bold reds. In this piece, we’re focusing on the story of the two producers we’ve chosen. To learn more about the region more generally, including the climate, food, art and history, check out this piece.

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Bodega Vega Sauco

Vega Sauco is a bodega founded by Wenceslao Gil Durantez - also known endearingly as “Wences” - in 1991. Wences’ love of winemaking began at an early age. He developed his skills in and around RIbera del Duero, but fell in love with the climate, traditions, people, and potential of Castilla y Leon and specifically, Toro.

Today he continues to make wine with the help of his daughter Patricia. His wife Maria José handles tourism to the winery.  Vega Sauco is truly a family bodega!

We chose their wine “El Beybi.” The wine is just that, the youngest wine that Vega Sauco releases. The focus here is on the freshness of the fruit. While it does spend 8 months in barrels, that is definitely not the focus of this wine.

Elías Mora

Founded in 2000, Elias Mora is headed by Victoria Benavides. Nestled between the Hornija and Duero rivers, the winery takes its name from the original name of the vineyards on the property.

Their approach is simple: only natural ingredients of oak, cork and vines. They combine the wisdom of their ancestors with the appropriate modern technology to produces wines that speak of the special qualities of their vineyards, and Toro generally.

Their vines have never suffered phylloxera, which is extremely rare in Europe. As a result, their vines grow on their own root stocks, not American ones.

Finally, they take great care to allow each vintage to express itself. The harsh and intense climate of Toro imposes itself differently each year. Instead of bemoaning this, they embrace it. In doing so, they represent the perfect example of what we mean when we say we showcase “honest wines” at Grand Cata - wines that lean into what makes them special and unique.

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Grape to Glass - The Art of Picking Grapes

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Ever wonder how a winemaker decides when to take the grapes off the vine? Too soon, and the grapes may not have ripened. Too late, and they’ve lost their acidity and much of their character. And it’s not quite that simple, either, because he or she has the option of harvesting in batches, or purchasing from multiple source vineyards.

While many scientific advances have given winemakers and vineyard managers more information to work with, such as the ability to test sugar and acid levels, this information remains only guidelines. Winemakers must gather the grapes that will fulfil their vision, while listening to the grapes themselves to make the wine that best represents that year.

Winemaker of Vinos Frios Alejandro Jofre explains his process:

Every winemaker has his or hers methodology when approaching harvest, exciting but also a bit stressful time of the year, I like to pick early, focusing on freshness, high acid and lower alcohol wines that focuses on the quality of the grape and freshness. Low intervention safeguarding the quality of the fermented juice.

Traditionally, skilled pickers went from vineyard to vineyard during harvest to select and remove grapes by hand. Many winemakers still prefer this method. However, hiring an entire team, often multiple times each harvest, may exceed a winery’s budget, so technology exists to safely and accurately remove grapes from the vine.

Still, nothing beats a seasoned picker when it comes to identifying which bunches of grapes should come off the vine, and which need to hang a bit more time. Hand- on winemakers will often comunícate closely with these teams to ensure they know what the winemaker expects from the harvest.

Another key factor to consider when harvesting is the time of day. Generally, winemakers want the grapes off the vines and into the winery for crushing while they are still cool. Picking often occurs in the early morning or late evening to ensure freshness.

Picking may seem like a simple step in a long line of more complicated ones, but it’s crucial to a wine’s quality and character. Just a few rotten or moldy grapes can turn a whole batch, and grapes picked at the wrong time won’t have the attributes the winemaker wanted. Luckily, winemakers, vineyard managers, and pickers can combine their experience and skills with the knowledge that’s now more readily shared throughout the winemaking world. This means more great grapes make it off the vine to become the wine you pour in your glass!

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