Okanagan Crush Pad brings concrete fermenters to the Okanagan
Photo: Egg-shaped concrete fermenter
When the Okanagan Crush Pad winery is completed this summer just north of Summerland, it will include six egg-shaped concrete fermenters – the first time that such fermenters have been installed anywhere in the Okanagan.
This is an indication of the cutting edge winemaking that we can expect from this winery.
Okanagan Crush Pad is owned by Christine Coletta and Steve Lornie, her husband. The senior winemaker is Michael Bartier, formerly the winemaker at Road 13 Vineyards.
The major label produced here is Coletta’s Haywire Winery, which is releasing two new wines, a Pinot Gris and a Gamay rosé.
Because Okanagan Crush Pad is set up as custom crush winery – making wine with other vintners who do not have their own wineries yet – there will also be other labels. In mid-June, it will release three wines under the Bartier-Scholefield label. That is the label of Michael Bartier and David Scholefield. David is what one would call a wine personality: a former portfolio manager with the Liquor Distributions Branch, he is now a teacher, consultant, wine judge and a wine representative with a major Vancouver wine agency.
The concrete fermenters are made in California by Sonoma Cast Stone, a company with a history in making a range of unusual concrete products.
“This is a very new concept to an Okanagan winemaker,” Michael says. “The irony there is that this is not a new concept at all, this is a very old concept.”
Wineries in France and elsewhere have used concrete tanks for at least a century, drawing the inspiration for such vessels from antiquity, when clay or ceramic containers were used for wine Over the past half century, stainless steel tanks have pushed out both concrete and wood fermenters (although wood is making a comeback for premium wines).
Photo: Alberto Antonini
The impetus for the use of the concrete tanks at Okanagan Crush Pad came from Alberto Antonini, their Italian winemaking consultant.
“Last summer we were looking over the winery plans with Alberto,” Michael remembers. “He is very quiet as he looks through the blueprints and he says, ‘These round things, what are those?’ I said: ‘Those are the tanks’. He asks what are they made of. Of course, I say, they are made of stainless steel. He said ‘I have an idea’.”
When Alberto began making wine years ago in his family winery, he was an advocate of stainless steel, having accepted that concrete tanks are not sanitary. After strenuous argument, he talked his father into replacing the winery’s concrete tanks.
“My father passed away a few years ago but if he could listen to me now, he would say I told you so,” Alberto says. His professional experience had turned him against stainless steel for the production of anything but “industrial” wine.
“Concrete is a nice environment,” he argues. “When you smell an empty concrete tank, you smell life. You smell something which is important for making a premium wine. If you do the same with a stainless steel tank, you smell nothing. You smell death. To me, the making of premium wine is about life, it is not about death.”
The egg-shaped fermenters have heating and cooling coils inside the four-inch thick walls for precise and even temperature control. The shape improves the contact between the wine and the lees while the production of carbon dioxide during ferment keeps the fermenting must moving gently.
“There are divine geometries, whether it is the Roman arch or the pyramid,” Michael believes. “The egg is a divine geometry. The movement of the wine against the lees is very important.”
Alberto also contends that fermenting with wild yeast succeeds better in concrete. As for sanitizing concrete, he believes that hot water is sufficient.
“I don’t want to kill anything” he says. “What you kill is what you lose. Premium fruit only brings good little animals into the facility. I want to keep them inside the facility and I want to create a natural environment. Concrete helps a lot to do that.”
The two 2010 vintage Haywire wines, which will be released next week, were made in stainless steel, of course, since Okanagan Crush Pad is still under construction. The experience does not seem to have hurt them. Here are my notes.
Haywire Pinot Gris 2010 ($23 with a production of 855 cases). A single vineyard wine (Switchback Vineyard, owned by Christine and Steve), this is crisp and focused white with a spine of good minerality and bright acidity. It tastes of lime and lemon, with notes of pear and apple. The finish is dry, tangy and refreshing. 90.
Haywire Gamay Noir Rosé 2010 ($21 with a production of 1,078 cases). This wine presents a lovely salmon pink hue, with aromas of raspberry and flavours of raspberry and cranberry. It has a crisply dry and tangy finish, thanks to its bright acidity. As much as I liked the wine, I think a touch of residual sugar would have put flesh on the lean texture. 88.