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How to Pick a Press

How to Pick a Press

Which kind is right for you?

One of the most visually iconic and useful tools in winemaking is the wine press. It is the device that will separate the solids and skins from the precious juice or fermented wine. There are a couple different kinds you have to choose from, though they are at their core the same in that they use pressure to push hard against the skins to extract the remaining juice or wine that has not already become separated from the skins.
But upon investing in a wine press, how does one select a size and style? Here are some tips on selecting your first wine press:

Picking a Style

There is more than one way to press a grape! For home winemakers, there are two main styles of wine press that you can choose from: ratchet press or a bladder press.

  • A ratchet press often has wooden sides and lid that hold in the grape must with a steel center rod and bottom juice tray. The grapes are loaded into the center of the press and large blocks are stacked on top of make up any lost volume. Then the lid is ratcheted down, applying vertical pressure from the top down upon the grapes. This style of press does an excellent job with extraction. The user must be careful not to exert too much pressure on the must as they are liable to crack seeds, which can release bitterness into the wine.

The ancient and traditional ratchet press

  • A bladder press is similar in shape to a ratchet press but operates differently. Bladder presses have metal sides and lids to hold in the grape must along with the traditional metal bottom. They work via water pressure. Simply attach a garden hose to the inlet valve and the water will inflate a center bladder which exerts horizontal pressure against the grape must. This style of press exerts more gentle and even pressure to the grape must. The press must be filled up to the top to avoid “mushrooming” and bursting the center bladder.

Pressing red using a bladder press. Note the stainless steel exterior.

Considerations

Choosing a reasonable size

When selecting a new press, the size options can be overwhelming. There are many different sizes of press, often measured in liters. Always take into account the must volume versus your end produced volume. If you anticipate to make 10 gallons of finished wine, you should anticipate on having 12-13 gallons of must, as the skins take up an additional 20% of the volume. You can always fill the press multiple times, but you should average at least an hour per press fill. Rather than do a huge load and then a much smaller one, it is preferable to split up each load so they will be pressed in roughly equal amounts. This will aid in giving the pressed juices/wines more uniformity.

Will your production size increase over time?

Also factor in the possibility of growth when selecting a press size. Winemaking is contagious and you may want to increase your batch size when you begin to drink your delicious results! It’s often wise to purchase a slightly larger ratchet press to accommodate for growth. If you purchase a slightly larger bladder press than what you may currently have for must, you can add rice hulls to the must to increase volume to properly inflate your bladder.

Other considerations

If you’re not a “sanitation is key” winemaker (and hopefully you are!) then a ratchet press may not necessarily be the best of these two choices. Since wood is porous, if you don’t remain cleanly every step of the way, then you may find yourself dealing with some very unwanted spoilage bacteria down the road. Getting a stainless steel bladder press will make it easier for you to be certain that every surface is completely cleaned and sanitized both pre- and post- use.

A “cake” is the press aftermath when using a ratchet press.

A wine press is a fundamental tool in home winemaking. It can dramatically increase your yield and quality. Knowledgeable staff at Musto Wine Grape can help you pick out the press that is the right fit for you!