Expectation. This feeling has been with us since we first acquired the concrete egg-shaped tank now sitting in our cellar. When Gene Pierce, our co-owner, came across concrete eggs on a trip to the Rhone Valley, the intrigue was instant and thoughts began to race surrounding the unique opportunity for a tank like this at our winery in the Finger Lakes.
Concrete as a medium for fermentation has steadily gained popularity and continues to do so as it has virtues and benefits of both oak and stainless steel sans drawbacks. Whether desirable or not, oak will give a bit of itself to the wine, and stainless steel has potential to remain flat without the ability to breathe and evolve the way an oaked wine can, but concrete combats these deficiencies.
Concrete tanks have been used successfully in winemaking for centuries, yet it wasn’t until the early 2000’s that the idea of an egg-shaped concrete tank arose. The shape was designed by Michel Chapoutier, a winemaker from the Rhone Valley of France. He commissioned Marc Nomblot, a French concrete vat manufacturer, to construct the first egg vat in 2001.
The egg shape, similar to the clay amphora wine jugs from the Roman Empire, eliminates dead corners and ensures a continuous flow of fermenting wine by creating a natural stirring effect.
A benefit to using the egg is that the amount of oxygen exchange is miniscule, allowing for extended yeast contact without the danger of reduced, naturally occurring sulfur aromas. The size and insulating properties of the concrete design eliminates the need for artificial temperature control during fermentation. Because concrete is porous, the tanks are said to be “breathable,” like barrels, and will allow similar richness and body in the wine, without imparting any oak character. Since the concrete in the egg is a more neutral substance, the wine will have purer fruit flavor, similar to what you would find using stainless steel.
The egg in use here at Glenora was built and imported from Burgundy, France. It weighs 2,645 pounds empty and a whopping 4,712 when filled. It can hold 184 gallons or about 77 cases.
Steve DiFrancesco, our winemaker, chose to christen the tank with Pinot Blanc, grown by Scott Welliver, co-owner. The wine will remain in contact with the yeast lees – deposits of dead yeast – until February. The lees add richness and full body to the wine.
What is particularly exciting about this tank is that we will be able to compare and contrast the flavors and characteristics of the Pinot Blanc from the egg, stainless steel and oak barrels, side by side. We were able to catch up with Steve regarding the progress of the wines thus far,
“The wines have taken on their own personalities. The stainless steel fermented is very inert with lingering fermentation flavors, and will need additional time to be pleasant for the consumer. The egg has more developed flavors from the fruit and the yeasts without the added flavors and tannins from the oak, and seems more consumer friendly at the moment. The oak fermented Pinot Blanc is consumer friendly as well, though there are influences from the oak flavors and tannins that have impacted this wine.”
The anticipation of the eggs’ arrival followed by its christening, and now the waiting game until the wines are ready has us all very eager! Stay tuned…