Saturday, April 11, 2015

Raised in concrete at Okanagan Crush Pad

 Photo: Concrete egg for fermenting and storing wine

Four years ago, Okanagan Crush Pad Winery was the first in British Columbia to install concrete eggs in its winery as fermentation and storage vessels.

Today, most wines from OCP proclaim on the label that they have been “raised in concrete.”  The winery is totally committed to using concrete. It now has 59,000 litres of concrete cooperage and no barrels – not even the used Opus One barrels employed to make 2012 Syrah.

“We used them for three or four years,” OCP winemaker Matt Dumayne says. “They can still keep going but I don’t need them all. I don’t particularly want them here anymore. Concrete has proved itself, that it can be just as texturally generous, if not more, and expressive of the site and the grape.”

A few other producers have begun to use concrete but none has made such a major commitment to these vessels. This might strike some as a risky departure from tradition. Concrete, however, is as traditional a wine container as you can find.

 “The concept of making wine in concrete is brand new for the last 2,000 years,” said Joe Rosenblatt of Sonoma Cast Stone, the company that made the first seven eggs that OCP bought. “It is an old method of making wine that people are rediscovering.”

It was rediscovered for OCP by Alberto Antonini, the consulting winemaker from Tuscany who has worked with OCP since 2011. He had used concrete previously with other clients and at his family winery in Italy.

“In my experience, concrete is very good if you want to ferment with wild yeast,” he told a news conference when OCP introduced its first egg in 2011. “Wild yeast can find a much nicer environment in concrete than in stainless steel. You have a more even fermentation.”

It took him a while to come to that view. “My father used to have a lot of concrete tanks,” Alberto said. “When I started working with him, I fought with him a lot because I wanted to remove them and replace them with stainless steel, which I did. My father passed away a few years ago but if he could listen to me now, he would say I told you so.”

His objection to concrete arose from unsanitary state of many old Italian wineries. This allowed concrete tanks to nurture spoilage bacteria. That is not an issue in a modern winery with good hygiene. Now, he can argue that concrete is the better environment.

“When you smell an empty concrete tank, you smell life,” he said. “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.”

New Zealand-born winemaker Matt Dumayne (below) who joined OCP two years ago, has a long winemaking résumé. But this is his first time in a winery equipped with concrete eggs and tanks.   

“If you had told me five years ago that I would be making red wine without barrels, but in concrete, I would have thought you were crazy,” he says now. “But the wines speak for themselves.”

Here are notes on current releases from OCP. The Narrative label succeeds the winery’s Bartier & Scholefield label, discontinued with the departure of Michael Bartier to run his own winery.

The prices are the tax-included prices prior to April 1.

Narrative White 2013 ($18.90). This is a blend primarily of Chardonnay, Gewürztraminer and Pinot Blanc. The wine is fresh and crisp with flavours of apples and stone fruit, enhanced by the spiciness of the Gewurz. 90.

Narrative Red 2013 ($19.90). This is primarily Gamay Noir with a dash of Syrah. It is a juicy, easy-drinking red with aromas and flavours of cherries. 88.
Lunar New Year White 2013 ($19.90). The wine made only 100 cases of this, a blend of Gewürztraminer, Chardonnay and Viognier. A wine with a fat Alsace texture, it has spicy aromas that jump from the glass. On the palate, there are flavours of apples, stone fruit and spice. 88.

Lunar New Year Red 2012 ($21.90 for 100 cases). This is primarily Syrah with a touch of Gamay. It begins with aromas of red fruit and white pepper, leading to flavours of black cherry with a hint of chocolate on the finish. 89.

Haywire Canyonview Vineyard Chardonnay 2013 ($22.90 for 131 cases). Canyonview is an eight-acre Summerland area from which OCP has been buying premium quality Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grapes. This wine was fermented slowly in concrete with wild yeast. The wine has a bready aroma that comes from time on the lees. It has flavours of ripe apples and citrus. The wine is complex, with a dry finish. Having said that, I still like some oak on Chardonnay. 89.

Haywire Free Form 2013 ($35.90 for 77 cases). Here is an edgy wine and an example of so-called natural winemaking. Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc grapes were destemmed into stainless steel tanks. The wine fermented with native yeasts. In addition to two daily punch-downs during fermentation, the wine remained in contact with the skins for eight months before being pressed. The result is a white wine for red wine drinkers. The lemon colour has a touch of haze (this is an unfiltered wine). The wine presents with a huge texture and with flavours of pineapple, tangerine, even strawberry. It is bone dry. 90.

Haywire Switchback Vineyard Wild Ferment 2012 ($29.90 for 200 cases). The estate vineyard is planted entirely with Pinot Gris. That has been left off the label to draw more attention to the terroir. This is an intense and fleshy wine with vivid honeyed and fruity aromas, leading to flavours of pear and apple. 92.

Haywire Switchback Vineyard Pinot Gris 2013 ($22.90 for 971 cases). This is a refreshing wine, with aromas of citrus and pears repeated in the flavours. There is a fine spine of minerality. On the palate, the wine opens with good weight, a textural plus from the concrete. 90.

Haywire Gamay Noir Rosé 2013 ($24.90 for 136 cases). Fermentation and aging in concrete has added flesh to the texture of this dry rosé. The wine begins with aromas of strawberry and strawberry jam, leading to flavours  of cherry and cranberry. 90-91.

Haywire Canyonview Vineyard Pinot Noir 2012 ($39.90 for 515 cases). Dark in colour, this wine spent 18 months in concrete but had a few months in barrels beforehand. It begins with aromas of toasty oak and cherry, leading to bright flavours of red berries. 91.

Haywire Canyonview Vineyard Pinot Noir 2013 (Not yet released; 500 cases). This is a bright and vibrant wine with aromas of raspberries leading to flavours of raspberry and cherry. Thanks to its concrete aging, the fruit shines with remarkable purity. This is a delicate but pretty wine. 91.

Haywire Syrah 2012 ($24.90 for 312 cases). The grapes for this came from Saddle Ridge Vineyards on Black Sage Road, south of Oliver. The wine was aged on six-year-old barrels, which contributed to the textural feel without adding wood flavours. The wine has aromas of pepper and plum. On the palate, the spicy flavours recall Christmas fruitcake. 90.



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