People look forward to autumn for many reasons: football season, kids getting back to school and the vibrant fall colors. For Washington wine producers and enthusiasts, autumn brings the most important event of the year: crush. Crush is the busiest, most exciting time for any winery as grapes are harvested from the vineyard and brought to the winery where the winemaking begins. Though Washington grapes are almost all grown east of the Cascades, 52 Washington wineries bring their annual harvest to Woodinville for crush.
Crush begins with the year’s most important decision: when to pick. Harvest date is rarely the same from year to year, so winegrowers rely on sampling, testing, experience and instinct to decide when to move. An entire year’s investment and the quality of the vintage hang in the balance. Pick too early, and tannins may be “green,” or bitter and underdeveloped. Too late and, along with the risk of rain, hail or frost destroying the crop, the sugar levels may grow too high, resulting in a flabby, unbalanced wine.
From Vine to Vintage
When all factors are weighed and the moment is right, the harvest begins. Crush turns wine country into a giant stage for a synchronized dance of workers, trucks and specialized machinery as grapes begin the journey from vine to vintage. Sparkling wine grapes are usually picked earliest, with white wine varieties harvested next. Red wine grapes are picked later, as they take longer to mature. Ice and dessert wine grapes can be picked as late as November or December, allowing for raisin-like dehydration and highly concentrated sugars.
As grapes reach the winery, a crusher gently breaks the skins open, exposing the juice and pulp without crushing the stems and seeds, which contain the tannins that contribute structure and texture to the wine. Stems may be separated from the grapes before or after crushing, depending on the wine being made. The juice then goes into a tank for primary fermentation—white wine without the grape skins; red wine with the skins, which impart the deep color and higher tannins reds are known for.
Once in the fermentation tank, different wine varieties take different paths on their way to the bottle. The assortment of wines Washington State is known for—Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah, Riesling, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc—ferment and age in a variety of vessels and barrels at different temperatures for time periods that can range from a few months to several years. But they’re all born during a few incredible weeks known as crush. Don’t miss this rare opportunity to witness, taste and celebrate this extraordinary genesis of Washington wine.