Photo: Concrete egg for fermenting and storing wine
Four years ago, Okanagan Crush Pad
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.”
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.
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.
($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.
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.
New Year Red 2012
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.
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.
Free Form 2013
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.
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.
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.
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
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.