In Spit Happens 46 and 47 I wrote about the concept of Terroir and new farming techniques like Organic and Bio-dynamic farming. This time I’m going to discuss fermentation techniques and why you pick 1 vessel, say a 225 litre barrel over a puncheon ( and why you want wood at all) or why you might want to use Amphoras, Eggs or Concrete tanks.
Wineries must be constantly seeking to improve the wines they sell. This means upgrading viticultural practices, identifying new yeast strains ( not very sexy ) as well as looking at fermentation processes. This means how do you ferment and the vessels you use to do that. Oak has a critical role in wine making, it affects the grapes in much the same way that vanilla extract contributes to flavor in baking. Adding texture and mouthfeel, softening tannin, allowing suspended solids to drop out and thereby clarifying the wine are other benefits of oak aging. There are a few downsides to oak. Number one is it’s expensive. Number two is it’s a clumsy tool in the wrong hands and can overwhelm some of the more subtle flavors in cooler climate BC wine. So wineries started to look for techniques that were more delicate on the wines and could be a unique selling proposition as well. Amphora’s, large concrete eggs and larger wood fermentation vessels started to appear. Amphora’s are usually clay vessels that have a neutral effect on the wine allowing varietal character to show through. Concrete eggs are often a step up in size from amphora. The shape of the eggs allows the yeast to remain in suspension longer during ferments due to the temperature changes from top to bottom allowing for a slow mixing of the contents. This leads to a bit more autolysis ( exchange of flavors into the wine from the dead yeast cells, called lees).
One of the wineries utilizing the eggs and amphora to a high degree of success is Laughing Stock Winery. They have a number of wines that are 100% concrete egg ferments and a few more wines that individual components might receive time in the eggs. They have also created Amphora fermented Syrah that spends 8 months untouched in 2 x 500 litre containers. The 2017 was just released to their wine club members for $49.99 on November 6th. Check it out.
Laughing Stock Winery wine making team
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