Jun 122012
 
Concrete Eggs

Photo Credit: Sonoma Cast Stone - concretewinetanks.com

California is known to be on the cutting edge of new ideas. We are “Mikey” in the Life cereal commercial, willing to try things first.

But sometimes what is new is really, really old in the wine industry. Asked recently what current techniques they are using to make their premium wines, a group of Napa Valley winemakers listed off things such as native yeast, not filtering and fining, whole cluster fermentation, and using concrete tanks among other things. These are certainly not new ideas, none of them. But what became apparent in the discussion is that these techniques are new again to some of the Napa Valley’s producers.

Experimentation continues even today in the industry. Where a winery might have bought all manner of commercial yeasts-ones that brought out flavors in wine, ones that played well with the vineyard’s soil, and who knows –maybe ones that did jumps and twirls with batons-now they are trying the native yeasts that lie around their cellar or vineyard. Where once, the winery fired up every slick new filtering system on the market, they are now learning what their wine tastes like and how it matures without filtration. And some of those who believed stainless steel was the mecca for its grapes, are now trying large wooden vats or concrete tanks. It appears that Napa Valley winery owners and winemakers-despite their successes and the incredible brand recognition of Napa Valley-are continually striving to improve on their wines.

Concrete fermenters in particular are coming out of hiding. When the temperature controlled stainless steel tank burst onto the scene, the concrete tank was relegated to the lowliest of statuses. They became a cause of embarrassment on winery tours where the guide would try to circumvent visitors quickly past them. If you mentioned them, they would always, ALWAYS–no matter how clean and ready for harvest they looked-say that the tanks were no longer used. But times they are a ‘changing.

Numerous wineries have old square-ish concrete tanks hidden deep, deep in their cellars and they are no longer embarrassing to use. A new shape has also gained popularity– the concrete egg (looking quite like an overblown, modern version of the amphorae used by the Romans in winemaking). Rudd Winery and Viader Napa Valley were the first to use these eggs in Napa Valley, sharing the costs of a shipment from France’s Nomblot manufacturer in 2003. The local company, Sonoma Cast Stone, has worked with numerous California wineries and is now producing concrete tanks in the U.S.

Proponents of concrete eggs say the benefits are numerous. The concrete keeps a steady temperature during fermentation without the need for heating/ cooling coils. The egg shape in particular ensures there are no dead corners so there is better uniformity of the juice. The material that the concrete fermenters are made from is porous so the vessel breathes as wood does. This reduces off odors which can come when a wine has no air, and it also imparts a rounder, richer mouth feel in the wine. It does this without imparting oak flavors on the wine while maintaining fresh fruit flavors. Its detractors say they are hard to clean, although that is argued by its proponents.

Regardless, this old vessel is new again, and you are sure to see at least one of the elongated egg fermenters on a future winery tour. Perhaps it will be the stainless steel that causes an embarrassing blush in the future? We don’t think so, but we welcome back the concrete fermenter into the Napa Valley family fold.

 Leave a Reply

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>

(required)

(required)

Please answer the following question: * Time limit is exhausted. Please reload the CAPTCHA.