Facebook LinkedIn Email Pinterest Twitter Instagram YouTube Icon Navigation Search Icon Main Search Icon Video Play Icon Plus Icon Minus Icon Check Icon Print Icon Note Icon Heart Icon Filled Heart Icon Single Arrow Icon Double Arrow Icon Hamburger Icon TV Icon Close Icon Sorted Hamburger/Search Icon
How-To

It's Crush Time

Fine Cooking Issue 52
Photos: Amy Albert
Save to Recipe Box
Print
Add Private Note
Saved Add to List

    Add to List

Print
Add Recipe Note

For wineries throughout the northern hemisphere, it will soon be crush time—the action-packed weeks when grapes are picked and crushed, their juice laid down to ferment into wine. Depending on the region and the weather, crush starts in August and continues into November.  

Crush is both the culmination of the growing season and the beginning of a winemaker’s year. “It’s my first chance to interact with the grapes, the first step in a long process,” says Peter Bell, winemaker at Fox Run Vineyards, a small winery in the Finger Lakes region of New York. 

When it comes to American wine, the West Coast usually gets all the attention. So it was with great curiosity and interest that I went to visit the Finger Lakes, an up-and-coming region that’s fast-emerging territory for seriously delicious and prizewinning Riesling, as well as Cabernet Franc and Pinot Noir. Last fall, I got to see the 2001 harvest in full swing at Fox Run Vineyards, experiencing firsthand the bustle, hard work, and excitement that typify crush everywhere.

Judging when to pick

Riesling grapes thrive in the Finger Lakes, a cool climate wine-making region. A shorter growing season, less heat, and more humidity pose challenges compared to places like California, Australia, and southern France. First-rate wine is crafted here—but skilled winemaking is crucial. And as the grapes ripen in the early autumn light, every ray of sun matters.

“A ripe grape yields to gentle pressure but springs back slightly,” says Peter Bell, who insists on feeling grapes for ripeness as well as on tasting them.

A refractometer measures sugar level, but it’s just one way to judge ripeness. Bell consults constantly with vineyard manager John Kaiser, squeezing, tasting, chewing, spitting, and watching the weather to figure out just when it’s picking time.

“I don’t know what we’d do without them,” says Bell of his loyal picking crew. Guadalupe Feria and others pick in the early morning, when the grapes are still cool, to preserve flavors. The pickers are meticulous, picking only ripe grapes and leaving less-than-perfect fruit.

Juggling demands

Different grape varieties pose different demands: juggling them is one of the biggest challenges of all at crush time. “The pace ramps way up and all of a sudden I have ten things to do at once,” says Bell. In a single morning, he’ll watch newly picked Chardonnay grapes go from the crusher-stemmer and into the press. He’ll punch down newly crushed Pinot Noir (to submerge the grape skins, which ensures even fermentation, concentrated flavor, and intense color). And he’ll taste Gewurztraminer juice fresh off the press (“rich and soft, with an intense burst of ripe flavors and an aroma of rose petals”).

Analyzing, deciding, and acting

Fox Run’s assistant winemaker, Peter Howe, transfers Chardonnay juice from tank to barrel, where the wine will start fermenting in oak. Like cooking, making wine demands knowing your ingredients and making smart choices. Yet, “it’s different from cooking in that I won’t know the outcome for months to come—but that’s part of the fun,” Bell tells me. In the coming months, he’ll be intent on making the wine the best it can be: analyzing, filtering, tasting, blending, bottling, and moving wine from tank to barrel. “A certain amount of crystal-ball gazing is required,” he muses. “I rely on past experience and look forward to the results.”

Comments

Leave a Comment

Comments

Leave A Comment

Your email address will not be published.

Delicious Dish

Find the inspiration you crave for your love of cooking

Fine Cooking Magazine

Subscribe today
and save up to 44%

Already a subscriber? Log in.

Videos

View All

Moveable Feast Logo

Season 4 Extras

Seattle, WA

Explore the Pacific Northwest as Moveable Feast with Fine Cooking travels to Seattle to get a taste of some of the freshest food on the west coast. Host Curtis Stone…

View all Moveable Feast recipes and video extras

Connect

Follow Fine Cooking on your favorite social networks