Last year we returned to Footlights from house sitting in Florida to a round of hay baling, field tilling, cattle herding, pizza eating, crop harvesting and grape crushing.

The latter, grape crushing, intrigued us.

How could we get involved?

Was it done by machine or feet?

And just how sticky did it get?

I was thrilled then when a couple of weeks ago I received an email from my English winery friend telling me about upcoming events at her vineyard, Caudalie, including one I’d been waiting for, The Crush!

We hopped in our truck and made our way to Sue and Ray’s property at 1pm on a hot Wednesday afternoon.

Dressed in old clothes and closed toed shoes we began the back breaking task of unloading 2 tons of blanc de blanc grapes brought in from a nearby Texas vineyard…

I buy one or two pounds of grapes at the grocery store…

…looking at four thousand set the adrenalin pumping.

Hubs and I stood at the tubs in the back of Ray’s horse trailer and began filling 5 gallon buckets.


We handed them to two other volunteers who tipped the heavy fruit into a machine where the stalks were removed and discarded into a large wheel barrow that had to be emptied from time to time.   The grapes and honey colored juice flowed steadily into a vast vat below.


We worked hard and fast and after about two hours had emptied two of the four containers.  It was time to move the full vat and replace it with an empty one for the next ton.

Now we could get to The Crush.

This involved more muscle work.  We scooped the grapes and juice, bucket by bucket, into an automatic wine press (no stomping here!).

Once it was full Ray clamped the lid on and began inflating the rubber bladder inside causing pressure on the fruit.  A dark brown, organic looking liquid began to flow.

We all took a little taste of the rich, sweet, unadulterated grape juice from the first press.


Absolutely heavenly stuff!

With that underway Hubs and I continued unloading the last ton while Ray kept up with the rapidly filling bucket that had to be poured into a large fermentation chamber.

When the flow from the press slowed we paused to empty it and dump satisfyingly dry skins into a pile to be dispersed across the pasture for the goats to enjoy.

Then back to the trailer.

Just as we began to touch the bottom of the fourth tub of still-on-the-stalk-grapes, a fifth volunteer rolled onto the gravel driveway.

It must have been about 530pm.

“Great,” I thought, “I’ve been here since 1pm and he’s showing up just as the back breaking work draws to an end and dinner is imminent.”


Startled I stilled my complaining mind.

Jesus told his disciples a parable about piece workers waiting in the market square to be hired.  The owner of a vineyard went out several times during the day to pick up more men to help with his harvest.  Just before quitting time he made a final sweep and collected the last of the men still waiting to be hired.

When it came time for settling up those, like me, who had worked from the start grumbled because the ones who had only been there as the sun sank were getting the same pay.

The landowner reminded them they had agreed on their wage from the start.

I grinned to myself empathizing with both sets of laborers.  We all happily sat with the latecomer at the table and enjoyed a well earned meal with a glass or two of wine.

Back at work the sun was beginning to show signs of fading and the press needed tending.

By now a second 200 gallon fermentation tank was being filled.

Hubs and I stayed for another couple of hours and left the latecomer and Ray to finish up.

We were told the press yielded its last drop of juice around midnight.

I learned that 2 tons of raw grapes yields 400 gallons of murky juice and wondered how many bottles of wine that was?

I also learned that everything gets very, very sticky and that the lot of a manual laborer is no cake walk!

This week we worked on 2 tons of Cabernet grapes,


but before we got started we were given a glass of the juice, now well on its way to becoming wine, from the previous week’s press.  It tasted delicious and was as clear as a bell.

Good news on the red grapes too.  After being de-stemmed and split they needed to sit in the first vat for a couple of weeks, to draw out the natural red color, before being pressed.

Our task this time lasted 90 minutes and we were able to leave and continue our day.

Which was a good job because we had an important wedding to plan!




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