I'm mashing a small quantity (~3 buckets) of grapes to make wine. I haven't any special equipment, and don't really want to buy any. What should I do to mash the grapes?
Wash the grapes, pour them in a large tub and you can mash them with your bare feet. It takes quite some time though. Afterwards, put everything through a large strainer.
If you don't want to go that old-fashioned, you can always do it like you do when you're making jam. Put some washed grapes in a large, clean towel and squeeze (or push on it with any piece of hard equipment, since grapes are tougher than berries).
Here's what I did last year, and while it works the wine press would be a lot easier. It also costs more money. According to this answer you may be able to rent a wine press, which may fit your needs if you are only doing this once after you read my experience.
First I softened up the grapes by putting them in the bowl of my stand mixer and running it with the flat beater for a few minutes. Then I gave them to my spouse, who squeezed them by hand using a cheese cloth. We were making a white, so we did not put the skins in the must. Our grapes were scuppernog, which are very acidic, and we ended up using latex gloves towards the end because the acidity really hurt our hands. We did about 26 lbs of grapes in about 3 hours - it was a long and not terribly fun process. It took a few cheese cloths. Oh, and we're never doing it again largely because of the initial mashing and mixing steps. But it did work and we did get drinkable wine out of it. If you like that sort of thing it is an option.
By the way, you'll get some good answers on Homebrew.SE for brewing specific questions. Crushing grapes has more culinary applications than just wine, but the rest of your process will fit best there. Check out their wine tag.
The most interesting "press" that I saw was a pickle bucket with a hole in the side at the bottom, with the lid trimmed to slide into the bucket. A hydraulic car jack was used to press the lid down on the grapes to extract the juice. Much cheaper than a regular press, and I suspect that you could just stand on the lid and get the same effect.
IF this is something you want to do on an ongoing basis the "right equipment" for this task is a fruit/wine press available from amazon or other retailers. These come in a range of prices from a simple tortilla press that can be re-purposed to several hundred dollars (US).
I've never had to crush grapes, but I think that my knowledge of soil compaction might be useful here :
- Crush a thin layer at a time. If you're working with too much, it'll just move to the side rather than get smashed.
- Use something that's not too broad for the crushing, as a larger head requires more force to get the same pressure over its area. Think of a large mortar & pestle -- either your feet, as has already been mentioned, or maybe a baseball bat (wooden, not alumninum).
Although a soil tamper might work, I'd be afraid of using one, both for cleanliness (yes, I know feet are the alternative), but they tend to be iron and I'd be concerned about keeping it in an acid for a long time. The important thing about soil tampers is that you let the weight of it work for you ... you lift, and let it drop. You might add a little bit of help as it's dropping, but you don't want to be doing it so much that you tire yourself out.
If you're going to be doing larger batches, I'd look for places in your area that sell wine making or brewing supplies. It might be that they have a press that they rent time on, or might be able to put you in touch with someone who does. If you're doing larger batches, you might try asking local wineries, but I know in my area that zoning for wineries is pretty stupid (they have to be on industrial zoned land to offer a service to others; if they're on agriculturally zoned land, they can only process stuff grown on that property)