Wines & Vines Home
   
 
Welcome Guest
LOGIN |  CREATE ACCOUNT
 
 
May 2014 Issue of Wines & Vines
 
SUBSCRIBE   »
 

Winemakers Give Clay a Close Look

Trials indicate clay fermentors provide characteristics different from steel, concrete

 
by Andrew Adams
 
 
Clay Fermentation Vessel
 
Winery supplier Ipak Wine imports these clay fermentation vessels from Italy. 

Winemakers at several different wineries are reporting that they’re impressed with early results from fermenting and storing wine in clay vessels. In another example of how what’s old in winemaking often becomes new again, imported amphoras and clay vessels produced in the United States are finding a place in cellars. Those who have used clay say it imparts unique flavors and aromas to the wine while also giving it a different texture.

Alex MacGregor, winemaker at Saracina Vineyards in Hopland, Calif., said his work developing fermentors with supplier Mission Clay remains “dynamic.”

Varied glazes and firing?
MacGregor said this past harvest he filled ten 10-gallon clay cylinders with Chardonnay juice, fermented it and left it on the lees. Each clay vessel underwent slightly different treatments to help determine how different firing temperatures and glazes affect the wine.

“What this study with the 2013 wines will tell us about is whether or not some glazing is better than just naked clay,” he said. “I think we’re gravitating for a glaze; you want it to be porous, but you want to control the ullage on it.” By this year’s harvest, MacGregor said he’s hopeful Mission Clay will have some large-scale prototypes for him to use.

Saracina also has about 500 gallons of 2011 Syrah that MacGregor has aged in a clay column with lids on both ends sealed with beeswax. He said he’s fairly confident he’ll be able to release the wine on the market. He said the Syrah in the clay tastes distinct compared to oak and steel, and in fact MacGregor prefers it.

    HIGHLIGHTS
     

     
  • Winemakers report that wines fermented in clay have a distinct texture.
     
  • The vessels have potential for both fermentation and aging.
     
  • Fermentors can be imported from Europe, but a few U.S. suppliers are developing their own products.
     

He likened the clay-aged Syrah to that of a Rhonê wine aged in foudre featuring a “wet, granitey” aroma and—although he admitted a distaste for the term—a minerality.

“It’s got to be related to the porosity, I think,” MacGregor said. He said the wine in the clay container wouldn’t retain free SO2 at all, yet it hasn’t suffered from excessive VA or Brett.

In February 2013, MacGregor also filled four clay “barrels” that hold about 57 gallons and can be laid on racks with 2012 Sauvignon Blanc.

Italian amphoras finding an audience?
Jeff Cohn, owner of JC Cellars in Oakland, Calif., readily admits to a propensity for experimentation. This past harvest he tried using an Italian amphora for fermenting and aging a small lot of Sonoma County Zinfandel. He said he’s impressed with the results. “Every time we taste it we’re like, ‘Wow, that’s kind of neat.’”

The fruit came from the Cassata vineyard, which is a Biodynamic property near Glen Ellen, Calif. Cohn split off about one bin of the 10 tons he purchased from the vineyard for an amphora. He said the fruit from the vineyard could yield Zins that evoke wines from the southern Rhonê or Italy, and so he thought clay could be a good match.

He said an Italian harvest intern, whose family owns a winery where they make wine with amphora, kept an eye on the project during harvest. Cohn said it appeared everything happened faster in the amphora, and the finished wine came out rounder and silkier. The wine also has a creaminess that’s not unlike milk chocolate, Cohn said.

The amphora is an Artenova imported through Ipak Wine, which is owned by Emanuele “Manu” Fiorentini. He said he’s received a tremendous response from winemakers since bringing the amphora over in 2013, selling two dozen of them to wineries in California, Oregon, Washington and British Columbia. Fiorentini said he is bringing in another two shipping containers of amphoras this year. “Honestly, every winemaker I sold one to likes the wine and is doing a special bottling of its own,” he told Wines & Vines.

Most of the amphoras Fiorentini has imported hold 500 liters or slightly less than a ton of grapes, but he said he’s sold a few 800-liter amphoras to clients in California. He said the natural micro-oxygenation of the wine through the clay creates a “silky smooth” texture in both reds and whites. “The wines seem to show well a richness in minerality and bright, fleshy fruit character,” he said.

Domestic clay suppliers
Chad Stock works in the cellar and the vineyards at Johan Vineyards in Rickreall, Ore., and in his spare time he’s building his own wine brand Minimus Wines.

Stock said he’s using his brand to dabble in winemaking experiments that go beyond the limits of conventional, clean winemaking. He said he’s used extended maceration to push wines beyond their typical varietal characteristics and explored how “flaws” like reduction and Brettanomyces can actually result in interesting and unique wines. “Where do you draw the line between good and bad, and who decides that?” he asked.

Always on the lookout for new and novel techniques, Stock said he was quite interested to discover vintner and clay artist Andrew Beckham in his neighborhood.

Beckham has been making amphoras for his own wines, and Stock wanted to try using one as well. This past vintage, he destemmed Gruner Veltliner clusters directly into the amphora, filling it about 90% full. He then let the wine ferment on the skins for about 30 days. Once primary fermentation was complete, Stock sealed the amphora up and let it sit for another 40 days before scooping out the skins. He then pressed the skins and added the press wine back into the amphora and let it rest for another 30 days. Finally Stock raised the amphora on a pallet with a forklift and siphoned the wine out for bottling.

He fermented some of the same fruit in steel and concrete but said the clay lot exhibited the most expressive fruit flavors and aromatics. He said he thought the clay also gave the wine a unique earth quality “somewhat reminiscent of iron, kinda ferrous, kind of blood-like.”

Beckham came to making wine amphoras in a bit of roundabout manner. He’s a ceramics teacher at a high school in Beaverton, Ore., and several years ago he and his wife purchased a rural property for a clay studio. In 2005 they decided to clear the property and plant vines. A few years after that, they began making their own wine. Beckham and his wife Annedria now own Beckham Estate Vineyard in Sherwood, Ore.

A few years ago, Annedria Beckham happened upon an article about winemakers using clay amphoras and brought it to Andrew’s attention. “I looked at that article and said, ‘I can do that,’” he told Wines & Vines.

Soon after his initial efforts garnered some publicity, Beckham said several wineries were eager to order the vessels, yet he decided to hold off on selling them.

Beckham said he wants to find just the right process for making amphoras for wine so winemakers don’t produce a disappointing wine with something with his name on it. His vision is to get the right firing and glazing protocols in place to offer winemakers a set of options like coopers can provide barrels with varying toasts and wood types to fit specific winemaking styles.

He said he’s also developing a steel cage so the amphoras can be lifted and moved with a forklift as well as drained. Currently the vessels need to be filled and emptied by hand. Beckham is also working on a terracotta egg-shaped fermentor with a drain valve.

In addition to Beckham’s work, sculptor Bill Ray Mangham is working with winemaking experts Brent Trela and Tom Vincent on the Qvevri Project based in San Marcos, Texas. The group is developing a clay wine fermentation vessel similar to the traditional qvevri used to ferment wine in Georgia.

Beckham also said he perceives an earthy tone and mentioned the texture. “I think the wines are more cohesive coming out of the amphora early on,” he said.

Beckham plans to have amphoras ready for sale soon and said he expects they will be in the range of 60-86 gallons in capacity and cost between $2,000 and $2,500. He admits it’s been a bit of a “magical ride” from ceramics teacher to winemaking supplier. “The wines are so interesting. It’s just super fun to be venturing into ground that’s lesser known,” he said. “I’m excited about where this is going.”

 
SHARE   »
Print this page   PRINTER-FRIENDLY VERSION   »
E-mail this article   E-MAIL THIS ARTICLE   »
Close
 
Currently no comments posted for this article.
 
CURRENT MONTH'S FEATURES INDEX »


 
Wines & Vines Home
 
866.453.9701 | 415.453.9700 | Fax: 415.453.2517
65 Mitchell Blvd., Ste. A San Rafael, CA 94903
info@winesandvines.com
Wine Industry Metrics
 
Off-Premise Sales » Month   12 Months  
June 2014 $562 million
5%
$7,549 million
6%
June 2013 $535 million $7,094 million
     
Direct-to-Consumer Shipments » Month   12 Months  
June 2014 $87 million
17%
$1,669 million
11%
June 2013 $74 million $1,510 million
     
Winery Job Index » Month   12 Months  
June 2014 300
34%
220
21%
June 2013 224 182
     
 
MORE » Released on 07.15.2014
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Wines & Vines
Packaging Conference
 
Learn More »
 
 

Practical Winery & Vineyard Library
 
Search the PWV archive »
 
 

Direct To Consumer
Wine Shipping Report
2014
 
Download full report »
 
 

CALENDAR
  • July 29
     
    Organic Winegrowing Conference
     
  • July 30
     
    Sweet and Fortified Wine Association Meeting
     
  • July 30 - August 1
     
    Indy International Wine Competition
     
  • August 1-3
     
    West of West Festival
     
  • MORE »
 

READER COMMENTS
 
Article: Wineries May Lose Internet Domain Dispute »
 
All these arguments could be levied by any industry associated with any gTLD, new or...
Reader: Doug Barnett
 
Article: Wineries May Lose Internet Domain Dispute »
 
Do brands get hijacked now? Even though .wine does not yet exist, are there false...
Reader: Larry Chandler
 
Article: Resistant Weeds Threaten Vineyards »
 
Roundup is not benign. It does not always break down in a day or two...
Reader: Robert Rex
 
Article: Resistant Weeds Threaten Vineyards »
 
Mitigating water use in the vineyard in the first place is also an applicable tactic....
Reader: Guest
 
Article: Resistant Weeds Threaten Vineyards »
 
Having managed vineyards that have used both approaches, I would say that a diverse approach...
Reader: Guest
 
 


Directory/Buyer's Guide — Your Wine Industry Marketplace
 
 
WINERY SEARCH
 
 
Advanced Search »
SUPPLIER SEARCH
   by Product
 by Company Name or Brand
 
Browse by Category »
2014 Directory/Buyer's Guide
The Wines & Vines Directory and Buyer's Guide
 
 
EXPANDED ONLINE SEARCH INCLUDED WITH PURCHASE
 
ORDER NOW »
 
LEARN MORE »
 
 
Wines & Vines Magazine
 
 
LEARN MORE »
 
SUBSCRIBE »
 
Digital Edition Now Available!
Wines & Vines Digital Edition Now Available
 
LEARN MORE »
 
ORDER NOW »
 
 
The Wines & Vines Online Marketing System
 
The Industry Standard winery marketing application
 
FREE LIVE DEMO »
 
VIEW VIDEO »
 
 
 
 
Latest Job Listings
 Sales Position-Metro B...
 Boston, MA
Sales and Marketing
 Viticulture Harvest In...
 Napa And Sonoma Counties, CA
Vineyards
 District Manager - Met...
 New York, NY
Sales and Marketing
 Director Of Spirits
 Tampa, FL
Sales and Marketing
 Vip Hospitality Concie...
 Napa, CA
Sales and Marketing
 Director Of Winery Rel...
 St. Helena, CA
Sales and Marketing
 Director, Enology & Vi...
 Benton Harbor, MI
General Administration and
 Instructor, Enology & ...
 Benton Harbor, MI
General Administration and
 Tasting Room Associate
 Fairfield, CA
DTC, Tasting Room and Retai
 Controller
 San Rafael, CA
Finance
 
More Job Listings >>
Follow Us On:
 
 





Home  |  About Us  |  Editors  |  Subscribe  |  Print Edition  |  Digital Edition

Advertise  |  Site Map  |  Contact Us  |  Privacy Policy
 
 
Copyright © 2001-2014 by Wine Communications Group, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
No material may be reproduced without written permission of the Publisher.
Wines&Vines does not assume any responsibility for any unsolicited manuscripts or materials.