Destemming & Crushing
égrappage/éraflage & foulage
To turn grapes into wine, the first step is to release the juices. Through a gentle process, grapes are crushed to allow the ‘free run’ juice to be released without breaking the seeds within. Winemakers are not attempting to press the grapes yet, as this comes at a later stage to obtain as much juice as possible. There is modernised equipment many winemakers use now that are specific crushing and destemming machines, these gently open grapes while also removing the stems. The screw device in the base of the machine helps to separate the stem and leaves behind a nicely crushed grape. With the removal of the stems, the wine’s alcohol content rises due to the very minimal level of sugar in the stems. Therefore, the percentage of sugar to produce is a lot higher with more to convert to alcohol. The only time winemakers tend to keep the stems on during the vinification process is when the grapes are affected by botrytis as the compounds help maintain the grape flavours and balance out the extra sugars.
Gently is the key word in the Crushing process, as seeds are one of the most tannic elements of a grape already, and if broken open it can impart slightly too many tannins for the average palate. To avoid the ‘stemmy’ taste of crushed seeds, the machines often have rubber covers over the screws to crush as lightly as possible so it is just enough to crack open the skin.
The time taken to input the grapes into the machines also provides an opportunity for the winemakers to look over their crop, analysing the best bunches and noticing if any should be removed due to mould, dehydration, or botrytis. Bugs and other debris can often wind up in the harvest containers also, so if not previously sorted this can also be the moment to remove unnecessary elements.