Wine pressing has been a part of winemaking since the inception of this world wide libation - after all, in order to get the juice out of a grape, you have to press it. However, what hasn't always been the same is the method in which wine is pressed, as the evolution of the wine press is a long, dynamic process that extends from 4000 BCE all the way to today; it is the cornerstone of most modern winemaking processes and gives us a better understanding of why our wines taste the way they do.

Getting the Goodness Out: Wine Pressing Methods

There are many ways to make wine, but what most of them have in common is that it involves pressing. Wine pressing separates the juice from the skins and stems, allowing it to mature with the right combination of contents. How this is done - the amount of pressure and type of press used - determines the quality of the wine that is extracted.

Manual Wine Pressing

Feet & Hands - The first method of wine pressing was probably done with the use of hands or feet. Today, stomping wine grapes is still viewed as the traditional form of wine pressing. It was still widely used during the middle ages by lower class citizens, who either chose not to purchase or could not afford a basket press, which is quite a persistent tradition, as wine itself is one of the oldest cultural foods/drinks and predates the Golden Age of Egypt's Empire.

However, this method is a controversial one, as some modern food and drink professionals consider it to be unhygienic; this also aided in the wide-spread use of mechanical pressing. Also aiding in the method change is the concept that manual pressing doesn’t provide enough pressure to the grapes to get strong, full-bodied wines, which means many early wines were probably paler in color, and some, nearly flavorless.

The Sack Press

Heading back to Ancient Egypt, hieroglyphs found in ancient cities that date back to 1550 BCE depict a method called sack pressing in which the grapes or skins that remain after stomping are twisted and squeezed by a tourniquet to release the juice.

The Wooden Wine Press

A Review of Wine Presses

Arguably, the most recognizable wine press is the wooden press. Records from the Greco-Roman period describe wooden wine presses in the form of large beams, capstans and windlasses that ground up the skins, stems and pulp. This method eased the pressing process by adding mechanical elements and almost certainly would have created dark, heavy-bodied wines full of bitter tannins. This wooden press has been recreated and built upon by many civilizations over the years, producing the modern wooden presses still in use in many of the old world wine regions of Europe and some New World producers who prefer to keep with some traditions.

The Basket Press

Fast forward to the Middle Ages and you have the basket presses used by nobility on their wine estates, as well as by the Catholic Church. A basket press is essentially a large basket that grapes are loaded into. A flat plate is lowered onto the grapes, pressing the liquid out of the holes on the side of the basket. While estates and wineries that still utilize wooden presses have adapted their models from the ancient wood press, most modern-day wine presses have adapted their design from this basket press.

The Continuous Press and Batch Press

The 20th century brought on modern technologies that allowed wine presses to evolve into multiple forms - batch and continuous pressing. Continuous presses run the pulp through without stopping, pushing the juice and skins up against the wall of the barrel and allowing the juice to drain out the bottom. Batch pressing, on the other hand, presses the the grapes in batches, stopping between each batch to empty and refill the press. Although it's less efficient, this method is more often used for the production of table wines, because it's easier to control wine quality with this method.

The Tank Press

The batch size - the amount of fruit and pulp that can be pressed in one run - is much higher in tank presses than in other presses. This press method also produces a clearer juice. However, the production rate for tank presses is still much smaller than that of a continuous press.

Wine presses are a necessary part of the winemaking process. If a winemaker wants to produce a great wine, the method they use is intrinsic to the process. It determines the nuances and characteristics that make the wine what it is... especially when working with the building blocks of the terroir, variety and harvest.