Picking And Pressing Grapes From The Vine

Learn how grapes are picked from a vine. Information on how grapes are pressed to make juice from them.

Grape harvesting is an age-old tradition that still occurs to this day. Throughout many areas of the world, grapes are picked by hand and processed using methods that were devised centuries ago and that were handed down from generation to generation.

Grapes are typically harvested in the Fall, from September through mid-October, depending on a grape's growing region and the region's climate. However, certain types of grapes, which are cultivated to make high-quality sweet wines, are harvested late in the season. These grapes are sometimes harvested in November or the beginning of December until light snow falls in the area. The grape picking process is a lengthy procedure and one that is taken seriously by grape growers.

The grape picking process involves workers who pick, gather, and process the grapes. When a grape is ready to be picked, workers take to the fields. Pickers line the vineyard rows where the grapes are located equipped with a bucket and a shear or strong scissors. At each grapevine, the pickers stop and cut-off a group of grapes. A group of grapes consists of all the grapes that grow from one larger stem. The pickers then take these grapes and place them in their buckets, collecting more grape groups until their bucket is full. At this point, gatherers collect the bucket's contents from the pickers. Gatherers walk the vineyard rows with large, 20-gallon tubs strapped on their backs and place the pickers' grapes in them or, they will drive among the rows on small, motorized vehicles that have large collection tubs located in the back of the vehicle. Once the gatherers have collected the grapes from the pickers, they take them to a pressing area where the grapes will be processed.

At the grape pressing area, processing can occur using different methods. Three of these methods are as follows:

1. The grapes, including their skin and stems, are placed into a shredder that is either hand-driven or powered by an electric motor. This shredding process allows the grapes to be smashed into smaller pieces prior to their pressing. The product that result's from the grape shredding is then placed into a grape press.

2. The grapes, including their skin and stems, are placed into a large wooden vat where workers using their bare feet stomp on them. The product that results from the grape stomping is then placed into a grape press. This is the oldest and most traditional method used for initially processing grapes.

3. The grapes, including their skin and stems, are placed directly into a grape press.

Once grapes have been prepared for processing, they are placed into the grape press. A grape press is a device that is made from different materials and varies in size and design depending on the grape-growing region. A common press type consists of a metal base, which has gutters around its perimeter that are used to collect grape juice as it is extracted from the grapes. Additionally, the press design features a basket that sits on top of the metal base. This basket is made from vertical, thick hard wood slats that are connected by metal strips. A metal threaded spindle is also positioned through the center of the basket and down to the metal base. Many times, when pressing grapes, the basket will also be lined with sackcloth. This is done so that the grape's skin and flesh will not be able to squeeze through any spaces that may exist between the wooden slats.

When pressing is to occur, the grapes are placed into the basket, all the way to the top. Any sackcloth that was folded over the sides of the basket is now folded into the basket to cover the grapes. Next, two pieces of wood approximately 1 1/2 inches thick, are placed on top of the grapes. These pieces are circular in shape and are made to fit into the basket to cover the grapes and to allow the spindle to poke through. Additional strips of thick wood are then placed diagonally on top of one another, stacking them up until there is just enough room left to insert a pressing mechanism onto the spindle. Pressing mechanisms vary in design and are either manual or hydraulic driven. Early grape press mechanisms, on whose design modern-day presses rely, featured a heavy nut on whose bottom a metal plate was welded and on whose top, a lever was placed. The pressing mechanism was then placed on top of the spindle and workers would walk around the press, pushing the lever in a clockwise direction as they walked. With each rotation, the nut and plate would move down the spindle until the plate rested on top of the woodpile. The compression continued until all the grapes' juices would drain from the press into a collection area. The collected juice would then be moved to a barrel for storage.

Today's grape pressing techniques have not strayed too far from the techniques of old. However, procedures for collecting and storing the extracted juice may be more sanitary than previous times. Pressing grapes is a custom that will be followed in the future as long as vineyards exist and there are people willing to take the time to harvest and process the grapes using traditional methods.

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