Tuesday, October 18, 2011


I've been meaning to do this post for a while now, but have learned that when you are living in the Otto-man Empire, nothing ever quite happens on schedule. But, more about that in a later post, because today I wanted to talk about the 2011 Grape Crush!

For the last 5 years, Sarah and I have been making wine with a loosely organized group of people, in could what maybe be described as a Co-Op. Unfortunately, for a number of reasons, ranging from people moving, to money, to just having too much wine, most of the people bowed out of the group this year. With the recent arrival of Otto, plus the ongoing basement remodel, Sarah and I seriously concerned taking a year off ourselves... but, in the back of our minds, we were worried that -if we took this year off- we might not pick the hobby and tradition up again next year.

So, after some soul-searching and convincing the old groups ringleader and organizer, Gary, to buy in on a third of our barrel, we decided to solider on ahead. But, since the grape crush has traditionally been held at Gary's house, and because Gary recently moved, we'd need to host it somewhere new: Our house.

This years crush would be significantly smaller than previous years. But, calling on friends old and new, we planned on having people meet at our place to crush grapes, enjoy a potluck meal and, of course, drink wine. And, since it was hosted at our house, I thought it might be fun, this year, to walk you all through the process.

(One of the surprising bonuses of this years crush was that our friend and fellow baby-sitting Co-Op member Erika Warner-Court and her family attended. Erika is an amazing photographer and all the photos featured in this entry were taken by her and, obviously, © Copyright Erika Warner-Court.)

The Grapes! In past years, we've generally purchased 2-3 tons of grapes directly from a grower in Eastern Washington. This year, with only one barrel to fill, Sarah, Gary and I ordered 500lbs of Syrah grapes from WWAWA (the Western Washington Amateur Winemakers Association... I think).

The Crusher! From the truck, the first place the grapes go is through the crusher. The crusher, like the press (more on it later), has plenty of Old World Charm™, and has connections to noted food writer Angelo Pellegrini. The crusher is used to loosely break up the grapes. From there it's off to...

De-stemming! Probably the least glamorous, but arguable the most important part of the Crush. A team of workers digs through the tubs of crushed grapes separating stems from the grapes and juice. Many winemakers try to remove nearly all the stems from the grapes before fermentation. But, we traditional try to leave some stems, which we feel helps add to the tannins in the wine.

The Vats! The separated grapes, juice and some stems are then dumped into our fermentation vats. At the end of the day, we'll add SO2 to the grapes to help kill any bad bacteria. Then the following day, we begin adding SuperFood and Yeast to the grapes to begin the fermentation process, which will last for several weeks.

The Press! After being separated from the grapes, the stems are dumped into the press. After the press is filled with stems, they're pressed to extract any last juice from them, and that juice is also added to the vats.

The Clean Up! - After successfully crushing and de-stemming the grapes, everyone is eager to get on to the drinking and eating (OK, so we've been drinking and eating the whole time... but still), but it's important to get things cleaned up, especially since most of the equipment, from the crusher to the press to (in this case) my dad's truck are on loan. But, that taken care of, it's on to...

The Feast! - Traditionally, this takes the form of a spaghetti feed in Gary and Cynthia's garage. But, this year, it took the form of a backyard banquet, with lasagna, chili and a variety of sides.

The Wine! - The Crush also serves and an opportunity to drink wine. Lots of wine! This year, we opened a bottle (or two) of our four previous vintages. (Photo by Ambika Beck, who also took some really great pictures.)

Sarah and I were both really pleased with how this years Crush went. And, while we miss having it at Gary's house, we both agreed that we'd be happy to continue hosting future crushes at our place. Now, for the grandparents and various family members, some additional pictures of Stella and Otto...