How do you know when it’s time to crush?

So I’ve seen grapes on the vine, I’ve seen the barrels in the cellar, I’ve seen the bottles on the rack, but there are still many parts of the winemaking process I haven’t seen, such as a winemaker testing the grapes to see if they’re ready.

Blogger Jameson Fink talked to Ross Andrew Mickel, winemaker at Ross Andrew Winery, to get the skinny on how one chooses when to pick grapes. Mickel told him that it’s about knowing the grapes, spending time with them, and tasting them. Mickel taste tests the grapes using a ziploc bag, scissors and a glass to extract juice, which he then smells and tastes. If it has a green banana smell, it’s a no-no.

“I definitely don’t want to make a wine that smells like a green banana skin,” Mickel told the blogger.

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Most winemakers tend to sample the grapes for several weeks before harvest time, which in California wine country usually runs from August to October. According to chanticleerwine.com, winemakers look out for soft berries, red fruit flavors (unripe grapes can taste like bell peppers) and brown seeds.

So how soon before I can get those grapes crushed, bottled and flowing into my glass? Whites tend to finish first and reds can take longer, sometimes more than a year, according to Food Republic, which recommends a Beaujolais Nouveau for the impatient drinkers. That wine is ready six to eight weeks after the harvest.