Grape Crusher

Date: Late 19th century

Origin: United States

Size: 18½ “ height x 11” depth x 31” width

Materials: wood, cast iron

Description: Early crusher, with no makers mark, most probably made by someone at home. It is in excellent working condition. The rollers are wood, but the crank-style mechanism along with the two 5” small interlocking gears that turn the rollers are of cast iron. The crusher could have been mounted over a barrel and used even out in a vineyard for immediate, fresh off-the-vine crushing. The dimension of the hopper that sits on top of the crusher itself is 9½” tall, with the top of the hopper 19½” square and the base of the hopper 7½” x 12”.

Object ID: WHP-CRS42

WHP-PR62 Grape Press, Late 19th century, United States

Internal base

WHP-PR62 Grape Press, Late 19th century, United States

Plate applied

Grape Press

Date: Late 19th century

Origin: United States

Size: 16” height x 14” width x 11″ deep

Materials: wood, hand wrought iron

Description: Salesman sample of a grape press replicated at smaller scale for demonstration of presses available at the time.

Object ID: WHP-PR62

Have you ever wondered the difference between crushing grapes and pressing grapes? This article explains those differences while showcasing two of the Wine History Project’s collection items.

Grapes are customarily crushed before vinification (the conversion of grapes or other fruit “juice” into wine by fermentation), and the majority of wines are made by crushing and destemming before the pressing operation. As we understand it, grapes for red wines are usually pressed either after or during fermentation and grapes for white wines are pressed before fermentation.


Grape Crushing

Crushing, or foulage in French, is generally described as “breaking open the grape berry so that the juice is more easily available to the yeast for fermentation,” so states Jancis Robinson in her book The Oxford Companion to Wine, Third Edition.

In earlier times (and now for very special batches of port or wine) grape crushing was done by trampling grapes inside a large vat, as famously filmed on the I Love Lucy television show.  Because of the constraint of the size of vats, many winemakers changed to distributing the grapes on a crushing floor that was sloped towards a drain and constrained by low walls. These low walls were there to avoid the loss of juice from the crush. These processes are not utilized very often today as they are both labor intensive and inefficient.

WPH-CRS42 Grape Crusher, Late 19th century, United States

WHP-CRS42 Grape Crusher, internal rollers

Crushing is accomplished by any of a number of procedures. Generally, the preferred method involves passing the fruit through a set of rollers. The rotating rollers crush the berries. The rollers usually have spiral ribbing or contain grooves with interconnecting profiles. These draw the grapes between the rollers, crushing the grapes.

The grape press from the collection exhibited in the Wine History Project’s offices and shown here is from the nineteenth century. For small batches of grapes or fruit wine equivalent to less than five U.S. gallons, a small crusher such as this is usually recommended. It does not remove stems but is perfect for crushing berry fruits and works well for small batches of grape wine. Nowadays, something this size would be perfect for the home winemaker.


Grape Pressing

Pressing, or pressurage in French, also defined by Jancis Robinson, “is an operation whereby pressure is applied, using a press, to grapes, grape clusters, or grape pomace in order to squeeze the liquid out of the solid parts.”

About 1,000 years ago, a mechanized press, an ancient piece of winemaking equipment, was developed. It was first used in the Middle Ages by wine estates of the nobility and the Catholic Church. We now think of it as a vertical wine press. In all this time, the basic design has not changed. These wine presses are of a variety of sizes dependent on the size and volume of the winery’s output of wine.

The grape press, or fruit press, was originally a device built of wood in which the fruit was squeezed by a horizontal wooden disc that just fit into a cylindrical basket made of wooden staves bound into the cylinder shape by encircling wooden or metal hoops.

First the basket is filled with crushed grapes, then pressure is applied through a plate that is forced down onto the fruit, and finally the juice flows through the openings in the basket.

The item from the collection exhibited in the Wine History Project’s offices and shown here is also from the late nineteenth century. This example of the grape press seems to be a salesman sample, an exact replica only in a smaller size, of what a grape press would be available at that time. Salesmen traveled California with these miniature wine and vineyard tools to demonstrate and sell them to winery owners.

By the mid-1800s traveling salesmen had become a part of American commerce, by the 1880s the California wine industry was close to being self-sufficient and with its own economics, and by 1900, there were an estimated 350,000 traveling salesmen doing business in America. The “traveling man” or “commercial traveler” of this time period were typically white men without families who traveled by public transport, stayed in rented rooms, set up shop, hawked his wares, and was gone as quickly as he had come to the area.

This small wine press basket and base is made of wood, but has hand-wrought iron legs, spout, crank, and threaded helix pin. The cylindrical basket is made of 37 wood staves (1/2” wide x 5” high) bound together by two iron rings (1” wide) that are 1¾” apart. The dimensions of this salesman grape press is 16” high, the basket is 8” deep, the tray is 11” deep and the footings are 14” wide. It is amazing to have this unusual and unique example of a salesman’s sample of a wine press, and we love having it available in our office for viewing.