Looking at wine descriptions you will sometimes see winemakers refer to a bottle as “all free run juice.” What does it mean?
“The simple definition of free run is that it is the wine that runs freely out of the tank by gravity when you open the bottom valve [after fermentation],” says Caleb Foster, owner and winemaker at Gunpowder Creek Winery in Richland, Washington.
Many wineries separate juice after fermentation into free run, press and hard press fractions. Free run comes when little to no pressure is applied by the press to the grapes. Press wine comes from increased pressure, and hard press comes from high pressure.
Winemakers separate press from hard press based on the force applied and analytic measures. Taste also plays an important role.
“As soon as it hits that part where [the wine] gets tannic or the green phenolics start to come out, that’s when we will cut the press,” says Marcus Rafanelli, winemaker at L’Ecole No. 41 in Lowden, Washington.
As one presses harder and harder, it soon becomes a matter of diminishing returns. “Out of a wet rag, you get most out of the first squeeze, and it’s the same thing with the press,” says Foster.
Free run and press fraction juice have a number of differences. “The free run is definitely a little softer,” says Rafanelli. “It’s really the purest expression of the wine.”
As winemakers press increasingly harder, different compounds are extracted. These include tannins and phenolics compounds, which affect color, feel and taste.
“There’s a pretty big difference in intrinsic quality,” Tyler Williams, winemaker at Kiona on Red Mountain in Washington, says of the different fractions. “The aromatics and texture are just never as elegant or balanced in your mouth when you move up to those higher pressures.”