Crush. The very word makes you giddy. Remember that adorable guy in seventh grade? That first rockstar you fell for? The rush of pleasure, the fear of rejection?
Crush in the wine-world is nothing like that.
As grapes ripen on the vine, winemakers begin to visit the fields to sample the grape juices for their sweetness. Because each growing season is different, with variations in rainfall, heat and the increasing age of each vine, paying attention to the actual level of ripeness is both an art and a science. The science portion entails using a portable scientific instrument to test for the precise sugar content of sample grapes.
The art? For many winemaking families, the true art is in preparing to do nothing else but take in and process grapes for weeks. Everything has to be watched and tended.
Dad (and sometimes mom) is nearly out of the family picture for the duration of crush. Grapes are hand-harvested, trucked over to the crush location at the winery itself, and broken open by machines that also strip away any stray leaves and vines. (Sorry, that lovely glass of ruby-red pleasure you’re sipping was not made by anybody’s feet in the modern winemaking era.) After the actual crushing of the fruit, the sweet runoff pours forth into tanks or barrels to begin a nearly magical journey through fermentation, ending up in a bottle that may reach your table in a few years.
Wineries are ridiculously busy during crush. In the northern hemisphere, crush tends to fall from early August into October depending, again, on weather, latitude and altitude. Crush cannot be delayed or denied.
So, in the midst of all that madness, why not visit a wine region now? The wine tasting rooms continue as always, but you may detect the intoxicating aroma of fresh-picked grapes in the air. You may follow a slow tractor hauling a tote of grapes along a narrow country road for a mile or two.
And if the places wine is born are too far away, you can peek at glorious but practical descriptions of the harvest, like this one from Napa Valley.
Here’s to a spectacular harvest for 2016.