As the reds finish their fermentations, we have to separate the juice from the skins. This is the whole reason why we use a press in winemaking. We’ve already talked about the importance of WHEN you press for whites vs. reds (whites before fermentation, using only juice, and reds after fermentation, juice and skins together). Now we have to talk about HOW you press.
This type of horizontal, pneumatic press is a cylinder on its side, with a bladder inside that inflates with air. This advantage of this press is that the pressure on the grapes is even and soft and most of all, very controllable. The pressure isn’t always the same during the cycle on a pneumatic press. At the beginning, its softer, when the juice runs more freely, then there’s a pause, the drum spins, loosening the mass of skins and juice, and then presses again at a slightly higher pressure to get that juice off of the skins. This repeated press-spin-press method is great for white wines because it’s efficient in getting the maximum amount ot juice from the skins with a minimum of pressure.
For reds, the skins are soft and delicate from 2 weeks or so of maceration, where we have already extracted as much as we want to. All that spinning and repeated pressing in a horizontal press tends to extract from those delicate skins a bit more bitter quality. To reduce the movement, and therefore the friction, between the skins, we use something a bit “old-school”:
This is our modified, old, hydraulic basket press. The skins are loaded into the wooden “basket” and then the big plate is pressed down vertically on the skins. The overall pressure is much higher than the pneumatic press, but, the friction between the skins is less, because there’s no spinning and repeated pressing cycles. The preparation of this press is time consuming and laborious:
After draining off as much juice as possible from the skins, the wet skins are shoveled by hand into the basket.
In this photo you can see a few different things: First is the freerun juice coming out of the basket. Second is the custom-made, stainless-steel carriage for the basket. This ingenious modification allows us to easily remove the basket from the press for filling or cleaning. Third, you can see that there 3 fermentation tonneau prepared to go into the press. That’s about the max for one basket press, and that’s perfect for us, because we make small batches anyway.
(That brings out another disadvantage of the horizontal press: You need to work with larger quantities to fill the press to a minimum level, otherwise the bladder inside cant inflate enough to reach the required pressure.)
Basket’s full and ready to press.
Wes positioning the basket on the press.
After about 45 minutes, the press finshes, and you get a fairly solid block of skins:
The last step is to get the skins cleaned up and the next basket ready to press. These skins are sent off to the nearby distillery to become grappa. It takes 100kg (220 pounds) to make about 2 gallons of grappa…