While vacationing in Tuscany about 10 years ago, I did a wine tour in Chianti. At one of the wineries on the tour, I was surprised to learn that they were fermenting their red wines in concrete. When one of the people on our tour questioned the winemaker about using concrete instead of oak, he quickly responded: “Why would we do that? This is Tuscany, not California.” He went on to explain that while many wineries ferment their wine in oak to give their wine an oakiness, that’s a characteristic that is not desired. In fact, it is something to be avoided. “We want to bring out the natural flavor and aroma of our grapes and not contaminate our terroir,” he continued. While I have been enjoying wine for quite some time, I had not yet studied the art of winemaking and was surprised by his response. In fact, I found it a bit shocking.
Fast-forward to last year. During a winter barrel tasting at Macari Vineyards on the North Fork of Long Island, winemaker Kelly Urbanik Koch proudly unveiled two egg-shaped concrete fermentation vessels, dubbed Mork and Mindy. Being a bit more seasoned in the art of winemaking, I was not surprised to see Macari venture into concrete fermentation as I had read that this technique was becoming popular in California. Kelly explained that this was something that owner Joe Macari had wanted to do for quite some time. He was also intrigued by the biodynamics of fermenting in an egg-shaped container. In 2013, after redoing the cellar, they finally had the space available in the barrel room and they ordered two egg-shaped concrete fermentation tanks.
While concrete fermentation is new to Long Island, it is a century’s old technique. The egg shape, which is a newer development, harkens back to the ancient vessels originally used to ferment wine. With no corners, the wine is free to circulate the carbon dioxide released during fermentation which naturally stirs the wine. And because of the thickness of the concrete, the temperature while fermenting is more consistent. On the negative side, concrete containers, whether they are square or egg-shaped, are expensive and because of their weight have a high shipping cost. They are also more difficult to clean than stainless steel. “The concrete eggs are allowing us to explore different styles of winemaking with Sauvignon Blanc and Cabernet Franc,” Kelly continued. “I am really proud of the wines we have made so far using the concrete tanks.”
Macari has already done Sauvignon Blanc and Cabernet Franc in the concrete eggs, but Kelly is anxious to try some other grape varieties, especially Syrah and Pinot Noir. In 2015, they purchased two additional concrete egg fermentation tanks. So, exciting new styles are in the offing, which I am sure will make for some fascinating comparative tastings. I can’t wait until next year’s barrel tasting to see what’s fermenting!