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    Auction Finds

    Wine press? Looks like a giant nutcracker to me

    As I was making my preview rounds at an auction house, I came across a big wooden basket straddling a ledge on a wooden stand, a metal plunger in its center. It looked like a giant nutcracker.

    I couldn’t figure out what it was, so I was curious to hear what name the auctioneer would give it. I’ve been to enough auctions to know that sometimes auctioneers get it right and sometimes they make it up. Since the item was near the front of the room where he would start the bidding, I didn’t have to wait long.

    A wine press waiting to be auctioned.

    He gave it the name “grape masher.” After he had moved on, I took a closer look and realized that he was right. I could imagine someone twisting the pole-shaped handle until it touched the grapes in the basket, smashing them. As I stood there, an auction-house regular approached me.

    She has a larger one at home, she announced. I wanted to know what she used it for (I’m always curious about how people use items in non-traditional ways). “It’s in my dining room with flowers coming out of it, like we use it,” she said, jokingly. “Maybe someday he will,” nodding to her husband who was nearby.

    Whenever I think of mashing or crushing grapes, the “I Love Lucy” episode comes to mind of her and an Italian-looking woman crushing grapes with their feet in a huge vat. Then there was the 2005 “Monk” episode when the germ-phobic Mr. Monk learned that his favorite Cabernet was produced by women crushing grapes with their feet. “It’s foot wine! I can taste it,” he says.

    There was no indication of how old the auction press was, but I found a website of one man’s collection that he said dated back to the turn of the 20th century. He called them wine presses not crushers or mashers, and they were similar to the one at auction.

    An up-close view of the wine press.

    A study released earlier this year said that archaeologists had discovered the earliest wine press dating back 6,000 years. It was actually a clay basin that drained into a vat, and archaeologists said it appeared that people mashed the grapes with their feet. The excavators also found storage vessels, cups and some grape vines, seeds and skins that had withered.

    The first sip of wine is said to have been slurped by humans during the Stone Age.

    The owner of the wine-press collection has assembled them into an online museum – the California Wine Museum – and here are some antique presses and crushers from the collection.

    I don’t know how much the press sold for at auction but on the web the prices were all over the place, including these antique French presses selling for $2,495 and $12,000.

     

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