Smart Dog WineryTM

a smart dog can sniff out a good wine

Working with Grapes

After kits comes grapes!  You can actually start part way using pre-picked and crushed-destemmed grapes in containers.  The most available versions are frozen and can be shipped almost anywhere.  You deal with them similar to kits (see Kit wines), but with red grapes you will probably need to press them after primary fermentation.  Also, you will get less wine from a similar start volume due to the skins and seeds.

After that comes working with raw grapes, and picking them (if you live in an area where they grow).  Following working with kits I then began with self-picked grapes. 

I picked in the morning of 1 October 2011.  It was cool and slightly overcast when I started, but I was hot and sweaty at the end, temperature still under 70 degrees, but it felt a lot warmer to me. Picked about 200 pounds, and then was running out of space to hold more, and was running out of me. Grape harvesters do not make near enough money for the work they do.

When doing your own picking, select your row and go as far down the row as you think you will pick, then 30 to 50% farther. Start here and pick towards the start, because that first bucket weighs a whole lot less than the last one will, and it will be a lot fuller too. You will also find that you are lot more selective on the clusters that you pick at the beginning than at the end.

Following picking comes the next part, you now have 1 or more large containers of grapes.

2011 Petite Sirah Grapes

It is also possible to get your grapes pre-picked, inrelatively easy to handle totes (often 30-36 pounds each).


The next step is crushing-destemming, which requires some special equipment called a crusher-destemmer!

A crusher-destemmer is probably the most expensive piece of equipment you will own.  And while they can often be rented (and I did at first) the timing is critical and you may need to plan your picking around its availability.

To operate the grape stemmer crusher:

As grape clusters are fed into the hopper on top, a stainless steel auger moves them towards the crusher rollers. The grapes, along with the stems, then drop through the rollers, falling below to where the destemmer basket is located. A second auger fit with destemming paddles runs through the middle of the destemming basket then moves stems in the opposite direction of the hopper auger above. The holes in the basket allows grapes to pass through but not the stems. The crushed grapes will drop straight down from under the crusher rollers, while the stems will drop out from the opposite end of the unit, where the destemmer cage ends.

Tips on its use

1. Clean and Sanitize before use.

2. Set up in a place that can be easily cleaned.

3. Set up the machine in a secure position before turning on.

4. Always use a heavy-gauge (14 Gauge or thicker) commercial quality extension cord.

5. Turn on the machine and make sure everything turns freely.

6. NEVER reach into the machine while it is running.

7. Feeding the machine in a consistent, steady flow will offer a better crush with less issues.

Following crushing-destemming is pressing.  Either before fermenting (white & rose’) or after primary fermenting (reds).  For this you need a press, and no using your feet is not recommended.


A wine press is used to separate the juice or fermented wine (depending on if you're doing reds or whites) from the skins, seeds and pulp that make up the solid parts of the grape. This is done by squeezing.  You will basically be choosing between the nicer features of a bladder press or the low price of a basket press, then selecting the appropriate size for their needs. 

 There are two basic styles of wine presses that are available to the home winemaker. The first being the basket or ratchet design and the second being the bladder design. Both are equally effective in squeezing the juice from the pulp.

Basket Presses: Basket Presses work by squeezing the grapes or must from the top and bottom.  The must or whole bunches of grapes are placed inside the wooden basket until it is pretty full, often with a mesh bag to keep seeds and other particles out of the wine.  Then the top is covered with wood or steel plate and pressure is applied by a rachet or jack. By nature, working this way yields one of two results: 1) In order to get every last drop of wine/juice out of the grapes the customer ratchets down pretty hard on the fruit. This causes extra pressure to be put on the seeds and any stems present, extracting harsh or bitter flavors into the wine; or 2) In order to avoid these undesirable flavors, the customer does not ratchet down so hard on the fruit.  As a result, they leave behind perfectly good wine or juice.

Bladder Presses: Bladder Presses work by squeezing the must or grapes from the inside (center of the press) outward.  As a result of this the entire lot of fruit receives the same amount of pressure during pressing, meaning the customer does not have to choose between maximum yield and maximum quality.   Additionally, bladder presses are faster to run per press cycle. That means that the customer can purchase a smaller press then they would need to with a basket press and simply run it more times in a day, which in turn means that the press is easier to store the rest of the year. Bladder presses are also easier to use and to move around.

From this point it is pretty much the same as with kits.


MIke Albrecht, P.E.

Or my excursion into winemaking

If you have any questions or would like more information please contact me at::