The Event
Napa Valley Crush
© by Sheral Schowe
The University of Utah wine education class has just returned from its fourth annual trip to Napa Valley, and luckily for our group, the timing was perfect—right in the middle of harvest.

Arriving at crush time can be one of the most educational and exciting times to visit the wineries. This year the leaves had already begun to change their colors to bright yellow, orange and red, providing a spectacular backdrop for each of our wine-related activities.

Napa is still buzzing with activity in the vineyards with hundreds of workers harvesting the grapes by hand, and a few machines in the more commercial vineyards. Bins of grapes are then loaded into trucks and transported to the wineries for the crush. Whole bunches of grapes fresh from the vineyard are dumped from flatbed trucks into a stainless-steel hopper. An auger pushes the red grapes slowly into a destemming machine, which removes all of the individual grapes from the stems. This machine also crushes the red grapes into a soupy mixture of seeds, skins, and juice called must. If the grapes are white, they are gently pressed by a huge plastic or fabric bladder press in order to extract the juice from the grapes without skin to juice contact.

The grape juice is then "racked" off into steel tanks to be inoculated with yeast to begin the process of fermentation. We witnessed this process in several wineries, from Carneros to Calistoga. It was a wonderful opportunity for everyone to learn firsthand how the process of winemaking begins.

Napa, bordered on both sides by mountains, stretches 30 miles in length, ranging from one to five miles in width. The region begins in the town of Napa to the south and ends just past the town of Calistoga. It is known for its diversity in soils, including over 30 different types, which contribute to different qualities, aromas, and flavors in the wines. There are about 250 established wineries in Napa, each with its own unique style of winemaking (viticulture) and grape growing (enology). To the Wappo Indians who first inhabited the valley, Napa meant a land of plenty; plenty of different types of grapes, and plenty of varietal wines.

The wineries we visited will be featured over the next few weeks, including the wines which are available in Utah at the wine stores.

Oct. 21, 1999

Back to the Sheral Schowe on Wine Index