What Is “Punch Down” in Wine Making?

 In CGT Blog

Creativity in wine making knows no bounds – and sometimes even the physical demands are high! When you hear the term “punch down,” you may think, “Well, that’s not the artistic or elegant phrasing I associate with wine making.” And while the term itself may seem aggressive, the physical punch down process is a delicate balance of art and science.  

Punch Down Wine Definition

In winemaking, the term “punch down” means to push down the grapes throughout the wine fermentation process. The traditional methods of stomping grapes with feet have now become grape punching with tools. (Though wouldn’t it be fun with fists?)

When red wine is being made, whole grapes (skin, stems, and all) are put into the vessel to give full flavor and color intensity. Because the grapes’ natural sugars are converted into carbon dioxide during fermentation, the solids are forced upward and form a floating mass on the surface. And because the skins and stems hold the most pigment and create richer flavor, they are “punched down” into the vessel to keep them submerged in the juice. To accomplish that, winemakers will use a punch down tool, which is basically just a long pole with a holed disc or shape at the end that’s designed for aeration.

Why Is Punching Down Important for Red Wine?

Aside from improving taste and color, punching down wine also aids in effective fermentation. When the solids float to the top, they form what is commonly referred to as a “cap,” which, as you might expect, can slow the fermentation process.

These are some of the issues an un-punched cap can cause:

  • Trapping heat and causing harmful bacteria to grow
  • Drying out and causing acetic acid to form
  • Preventing carbon dioxide from releasing to continue fermentation

When it comes to white wines, though, the punch down process is not necessary. Because color and richer flavor isn’t required from white grape skins, they are often removed before fermentation begins. Although, some winemakers opt to keep some of the white grape skins for that boost of unique flavor.

CGT’s Punch Down Red Wine Making Process

Although the punch down process can happen by machine, many times it’s done by hand. So, if you’re ever wondering how much work winemakers put into their craft, the answer is: a whole lot of mind and body muscle.

For Chateau Grand Traverse, the punch down process of our northern Michigan wines involves these general steps:

  1. Determine the frequency of punch downs. Typically, there are one to five punch down times per day. But depending on the grape varietal, wine style, and production volume, we vary our frequency and amount of punches. The more you punch down the wine, the stronger the overall color and tannin flavor will be. Our winemakers determine the correct methods to achieve the best product.
  2. Punch down the initial batch. In the beginning, the grapes need to be crushed and then moved around with a punch down tool. Then, as they start to break down in the fermentation process, the created “cap” becomes easier to punch.
  3. Punch down the fermented batch. Once the grapes have broken down more, timed punch downs occur throughout several days to improve oxygen circulation and prevent the cap from drying out. This later process mainly involves breaking up the cap and pushing the skins to the bottom of the vessel until they no longer float.
  4. Transfer the wine into presses. After the wine has been fermented and punched for the appropriate amount of time, the skins and seeds are separated out in the pressing process. The level of pressure applied during pressing determines the final taste and color.

Even after red wine has stopped fermenting, it needs time to mature in barrels until it’s ready to be filtered, blended, and bottled. For example, all our Reserve Reds are aged 20+ months to develop tantalizing flavor structure.

Learn More About Our Exclusive Wines

Punching down is just one of many techniques in the world of wine making. From picking to punching to packing, the winemakers at Chateau Grand Traverse pour in a lot of effort and knowledge to bring quality and uniqueness to our specialty wines.

If you enjoyed getting a peek behind the scenes and you’re curious about more of these processes and what exclusive wines we offer, reach out to our team at (800) 283-0247 or visit us.