Winemaking 101: What is a basket press?

A basket press is a traditional tool used to squeeze juice and or wine out of grapes. Winemaker Fred Scherrer explains how and why he uses a basket press for certain lots but not others in this video.

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Filmed with Fred Scherrer at the winery in California and City Winery Chicago.

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Video Text: (Background question: What is a basket press and why do you use it in winemaking? )

A basketpress is a wonderful, simple solution for getting more of the wine out of the mass of grapes than gravity would just remove.

It is essentially a bunch of pieces of wood that are held together by a couple of rings, and then something that comes down on top of it that you can put rocks on, or in the case of what we have now, and more reasonably modern presses like the one I have, a big screw that is on the interior. You just put a big nut on the top of a big piece of wood or something and you take a big piece of pipe and put it onto the nut part to give it some more leverage and we just pull on this thing and then screw it down.

We go very slowly initially because I want to allow the juice to exit with the least amount of pressure possible. That way we are not forcing things from deeper in the grape tissue and leveling it up with things that are not as deep in the tissues. So we just take it really easy. Once the flow begins to slow down to not a small continuous stream then we will continue to screw on the basket press.

But it seems that all of the stuff that we get at that pressure level – the most that a man or woman can really put on the press physically – that seems to be a different kind of material than what we get when we switch over to the cheater part, which is the hydraulics. That allows us to put even more pressure on the mass.

What I like about that particular type of press is that  it doesn’t necessarily require electricity to operate. It is very simple and it can be operated very slowly. If we operate this thing slowly, different things come out of the press at different times and different pressures. Different types of materials are released from those grapes depending on how hard they are being squeezed on. It’s a slow process that requires a lot of patience but I think the reward is huge because we are fractionating things out and we are getting the right pieces to put into an appropriate spot (in the final wine).

There comes a point where we don’t feel that what we are getting out of the mass is useful and at that point we stop pressing. We may get as many as four different fractions. It is remarkable when I train somebody to operate this press and just remind them to be patient, they don’t really believe that things are going to change rapidly at different points and its fascinating to see the surprise on their faces when they do see these points and the actually recognize it.

If it seems like we are making things a little more complicated than we should, we are for a very short period of time, but it actually simplifies life later and I think it is a wonderful and very powerful winemaking tool in our conditions.

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