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There are certain times of year we are constantly invaded by customers we have never seen before who are all wanting to get into the winemaking hobby normally because they have seen a mass of fruit or grapes in their garden (or the garden of a friend or relative).
The first question we get asked is “What do I do with all this fruit. I am told this could be real fun?” Seeing as I have dealt with this situation on so many occasions I do feel as though I am an expert and in the perfect position to give you all the advice you need and yes it can be fun!! Depending on how serious you are will depend on how much money you need to spend but the one thing you will find about us is we are honest and give advice which is not designed to take as much money off you as we can.
Let’s assume we haven’t got much fruit and this is just going to be a one off. Depending on what fruit we have, we can chop this and crush it by hand. Simply cut the fruit into small pieces and then crush it using the end of a rolling pin or wooden block. Feed this through a straining bag and collect all the juice. This can then be fermented in a suitable container by adding (if needed) water and additional sugar. See later the section on getting the fermentation started.
I told you it could be done without a big investment. You will need a straining bag and a suitable fermentation container (see beginner’s packs) with the necessary fermentation pack (yeast, nutrient etc.). If you are struggling to find something to crush the fruit then we have a “Pulpmaster” which will help to chop this all up for you with a suitable bucket. This has a sharp blade attached to a steel rod which fits onto your electric drill. That’s all.
Now let’s assume we have got a reasonable amount of fruit and we see this as a regular (annual activity). There is no doubt at all that a press and possible a crusher is a must.
Let’s look briefly at the process before we talk specifically about the press.
As a general rule you will need approx. 6-7 Kilos of grapes to produce 4.5 litres (1 gallon) of wine. So if you are doing it in 23 litres (5 Gallon) batches then that’s a lot of grapes that need to be crushed and then pressed. With Berries (strawberries, elderberries, blackberries and currant berries) you won’t need quite so much as there is a need to balance this with water and sugar, but it still will take some preparing.
Apples you will need approx. 10 kilos per gallon of cider. So again depending on how many apples you have and how much you want to make will determine the way forward for you. The more volume you have the more need their will be for a crusher. If you do need a crusher then look at the Wine Presses that have a swing away crossbeam? This will allow you to rest the crusher on top of the press and crush the fruit which will then drop into the cage of the press all in one movement. The disadvantage is only one person can operate this at a time and we have found over the years it’s a great family even the crushing of apples and making cider so everyone wants a go. Some want to crush, others press and all want to make the cider!!
If this is to be an annual event I would strongly recommend that when looking at which press to buy, you always go for at least one size larger than you think you might need. It’s the most heard phrase “I wish I had bought a larger press. Its fun and we never have enough juice”. If you are on a budget invest in the biggest press this year you can, use the pulpmaster, and accept that next year you will buy the crusher you want.
A fruit press can be built into the production of any type of wine. However how and when the fruit is pressed can vary slightly from one style of wine to another. When should the grapes be pressed?
Contrary to many peoples thoughts the wine grapes are not necessarily pressed at the start of the winemaking process. When making wine from Red grapes, it is normal that these are only pressed after they have been crushed and fermented (on the skins) for typically 4-7 days. The reason we do this is because it will help to determine the wines flavour intensity and body. The amount of time the must is fermented on the crushed pulp and more importantly on the grape skins is crucial to the colour, flavour and body. During the first 4 days of fermentation on the pulp it is the colour and body that is being extracted into the juice. After the 4 days we tend to find that it is not colour that continues to be extracted but flavour and far more importantly body.
Please don’t loose sight of the importance of all this. Think in terms of some of the best commercial grapes available like the Zinfandel. This is a Red grape but with some pretty careful pulp fermentation it can also be a Blush (Rose) or a White Zinfandel. So from one grape we have three different wines. The only difference is the amount of time the crushed grape skins spend in contact with the juice.
With White wines which are made with White grapes then its quite normal for these to be pressed and crushed all in one go at the start of the winemaking. White wines are different from Red wines in the main because we are trying to create something that is lighter, more delicate and fruitier. By removing the fermentation on the pulp it will help to create these characteristics in the wine.
Needless to say there are exceptions to all this and probably the 3 most famous White wine grapes are involved - Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon. Here it is quite normal to allow for a slight fermentation after crushing for anything up to 3 days. This helps to increase the body and intensity of the wine but in truth it is for a relatively short space of time which in some cases is less than 24 hours. The side affect of all this is there is an excellent chance the colour will increase making the wine more golden (straw like) which some people really don’t like so if this is an issue stay away from fermenting on the pulp.
The same principles will apply as we have described with the Red and White grapes. If you are wanting to increase the intensity of colour, body and flavour then crush the fruit and ferment on the pulp for 4-7 days (you might want to leave this up to 12 days for a really full bodied) as we have done with the Red grapes. This will normally apply to the Red Berry fruits like Elderberries, Blackberries, and Bilberries etc. Similarly with the White fruits you might want to eliminate the extras that come with pulp fermentation. Apples, Pears, Gooseberries and Apricots are good examples of the desire to eliminate the skins and the internal fibres so you might decide to ferment only for 12-24 hours. If you are making Cider or Apple wine you can simply pulp and then press the apples when they are ripe, and the straight juice can then be fermented out. There is no need to leave it on the pulp. Really the choice is yours. This is one of the reasons you will get a different taste in the wines being made and there is no right or wrong taste. I think though you should now be getting the idea of how all this works and how it will affect the end product.
Whether you have now done an initial fermentation or just crushed the grapes/fruit then you will need to place this into the basket of the fruit press. Their might be considerable free running liquid so make sure you have a collecting chamber in place. A lot of the winemakers I know pull this off first before adding it to the basket. This can easily be done by placing it in a bucket and allowing the heavy pulp to drift to the bottom. The thinner liquid can then be drained off. This is called the “Free Run”. I will talk later about this.
In the basket (we suggest you always place a pressing bag against the basket sides before you transfer anything) of the press will now be pulp which can then be pressed according to the instructions of the specific wine press you have bought. As the plate tightens on the fruit then the juice collected will contain far more intense flavours and body so it is really important to get as much out of each pressing as you can. One word of caution-you can over press and the product you extract can really start to be rather bitter.
Let me spend a few seconds dealing with the “Free Run”. Some of the larger producers will keep this separate from the pressed juice as it will produce a completely different wine. The problem is you might not have enough to do this. It also helps to offset the bitterness that can come from over pressing. However if you do keep this separate it will produce a wine much lighter in colour and body and will also mature much quicker. Wines made from the pressing will also be fuller in body, aroma, less fruity, and with a more herbal and organic impression. If you can therefore make these two different styles of wine you can then blend them prior to bottling. This will give you some serious flexibility at adjusting the flavour profile to suit your own palate.
Grapes are probably the easiest to deal with as these can either be placed inside our Crusher unit or they can be cut (if you are only doing a small amount) and squeezed.
Fruit however is a little more troublesome as there are so many types and it is not easy to generalise. With Berries you can crush these sufficiently with your hands and if necessary you can use a potatoes crusher. The dumpy end of any tool is good proved of course that it’s clean. The idea is to break open the skins of the fruit. You don’t need to do much more. With larger fruit like Apple, Peaches, and Apricots cut them into pieces and then crush them. It is easy to over crush the fruit and that’s not the object of the exercise. For this reason we don’t advise food processor or blenders. They are too severe and produce a must which is bitter and will take ages to settle out after fermentation has finished. Depending on the volume you are currently doing will determine the need to invest in one of our Crushers listed above.