Crushing is the process when gently squeezing the berries and breaking the skins to start to liberate the contents of the berries. Destemming is the process of removing the grapes from the rachis (the stem which holds the grapes). In traditional and smaller-scale wine making, the harvested grapes are sometimes crushed by trampling them barefoot or by the use of inexpensive small scale crushers. These can also destem at the same time. However, in larger wineries, a mechanical crusher/destemmer is used. The decision about destemming is different for red and white wine making. Generally when making white wine the fruit is only crushed, the stems are then placed in the press with the berries. The presence of stems in the mix facilitates pressing by allowing juice to flow past flattened skins.
These accumulate at the edge of the press. For red winemaking, stems of the grapes are usually removed before fermentation since the stems have a relatively high tannin content; in addition to tannin they can also give the wine a vegetal aroma (due to extraction of 2-methoxy-3-isopropylpyrazine which has an aroma reminiscent of green bell peppers.) On occasion, the winemaker may decide to leave them in if the grapes themselves contain less tannin than desired. This is more acceptable if the stems have ‘ripened’ and started to turn brown. If increased skin extraction is desired, a winemaker might choose to crush the grapes after destemming.
Removal of stems first means no stem tannin can be extracted. In these cases the grapes pass between two rollers which squeeze the grapes enough to separate the skin and pulp, but not so much as to cause excessive shearing or tearing of the skin tissues. In some cases, notably with “delicate” red varietals such as Pinot noir or Syrah, all or part of the grapes might be left uncrushed (called “whole berry”) to encourage the retention of fruity aromas through partial carbonic maceration.