Soils, weather, harvest date, yeast, and barrels are often heralded as crucial to wine quality. Vastly underappreciated, however, is the wine press. Following the fermentation and after the "free run" wine is drained from the tank, a wine press squeezes out 5-20% more red wine from the grape pomace (skins and seeds). The "press wine" can make or break a bottled wine, and press design is critical to high quality press wine.
Generally viewed as inferior, most wineries expect so little from their press wine that it's blended into to lower-quality second tier wines instead of an individual vineyard's free run. Here at Montemaggiore, we produce such small amounts of so few wines that every drop must be top quality. In fact, we believe that press wine can actually improve the overall structure, texture, and ageability of our wine. Hence, we splurged on purchasing the Rolls Royce of wine presses, the JLB Basket Press from Vaslin-Bucher.
The basket press, a design originating with the ancient Egyptians and their reed baskets, is undergoing a renaissance as of late. Wineries such as Araujo, Quintessa, and Chateau Petrus utilize the JLB in the pursuit of maximum quality. A very simple design, the basket press utilizes a perforated "basket" (at first reeds, then wooden slats, now stainless steel) and a vertical piston or ram to gently squeeze out extra wine from the grape pomace.
Historically, basket presses have yielded little wine, required long cycle times (to fill, press, empty and refill a basket), and were difficult to sanitize. Thus winemakers cheered the efficiency of the first tank presses (also called membrane or bladder presses). In the center of the perforated tank, an inflatable balloon exerts tremendous pressure over a small surface area, thus rapidly producing a lot of press wine. But tank presses quickly yield wine that is virtually flavorless while containing harsh and astringent tannins.
Today's basket presses like the JLB utilize stainless steel, quick-loading rigs and computerized control systems. Their gentle press cycles produce a deep, flavorful, soft wine. Although one might not think a small amount of press wine would matter, even adding 2% of a harsh wine will make a significant impact. Conversely, when we add an average of 7% top quality press wine from our JLB basket press, this gives Montemaggiore wines perfect grip and structure.