Wednesday, August 27, 2014

The concrete wines at Okanagan Crush Pad

Photo: Concrete fermenters made by Italy's Nico Velo

During the past three years, Okanagan Crush Pad Winery has made a huge investment in concrete tanks for fermenting and aging wines.

In 2011, a year after opening, the Summerland winery installed six California-made concrete eggs, each with the capacity of 2,000 litres.

Last year, the winery added eight 4,400-litre concrete tanks made by Nico Velo, a manufacturer in Italy. Nico Velo has also supplied concrete tanks to the Italian winery of Alberto Antonini (below), the consultant who recommended the use of concrete to OCP.

Alberto was on hand three years ago when the eggs arrived and explained his advocacy of concrete rather dramatically.

“Concrete is a nice environment,” he said. “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.”

Several other Okanagan wineries have installed some concrete eggs in the past two years. None has made a more extensive the commitment than OCP has made to this winemaking technology.

Concrete tanks are an example of the old becoming new. Before stainless steel was invented (about 1913), it was routine to find concrete tanks (sometimes glass lined) as well as large wooden vats in most wineries. Rust-resistant stainless steel tanks became ubiquitous because they are far easier to clean and, if desired, to sterilize than wood or concrete.

However, the advocates of concrete believe that the risks around cleanliness can be managed – and the benefits in wine quality are worth taking the risk.

“Pretty much everything in the Haywire portfolio is now in concrete,” says Matt Dumayne, one of the winemakers at OCP. Haywire is the winery’s major brand.  

He explains the perceived benefit of fermenting and aging in concrete: “What we have found in the last couple of years is that it really enhances creaminess, mouthfeel and texture.” He also believes that the wines express the terroir better.

Last year, he did three trial lots of Chardonnay – one in barrel, one in stainless steel and one in concrete.

“The barrel ferment [wine] was obviously quite oaky with glycerol in the texture,” Matt (left) found. “The stainless steel [wine] was very varietally focused, very fruit driven on the nose, with strong acidity, but very linear. The one fermented in concrete seemed to decrease varietal typicity a little bit but the enhanced structure and mouthfeel was far superior to the stainless, I thought.”

OCP has now begun releasing wines “raised” in concrete, leaving consumers to decide whether or not these are better than wines raised in stainless steel or barrels.

The British Columbia Liquor Distribution Branch is on board. The LDB ordered 1,000 cases of Haywire White Label Pinot Gris. This is OCP’s biggest sale yet to the LDB. The wine will be available in many liquor stores for the next four months.

Here are notes on current Haywire wines.

Haywire White Label Pinot Gris 2013 ($19.90). In general, white label signifies wines made from grapes grown for Haywire by contracted vineyards. This wine displays the textural generosity of a wine raised in concrete. It is juicy on the palate, with refreshing acidity and with aromas and flavours of citrus and pear. The finish is dry. 89.

Haywire Sauvignon Blanc 2013 ($22.90). The grapes are from a Summerland vineyard managed by OCP. Matt says the wine “is 100% native ferment [with wild yeast] in concrete. It is very different – 100% Sauvignon Blanc but it has a lot of funk to it.” I am not quite sure what funk might be. I find tropical fruit aromas with flavours of lime and grapefruit. The wine shows some mineral notes but the texture again is juicy and the finish is crisp. 90.

Haywire Switchback Vineyard  Wild Ferment ($29.90). This is 100% Pinot Gris but the varietal has been omitted from the label. The winery is trying to establish its organic Switchback Vineyard as a stand-alone brand.  Think Domaine de la Romanée-Conti, which does not put the varietal on its label either. This is a richly textured wine with aromas of honeysuckle and herbs and flavours of pear and citrus. The finish lingers. 92

Haywire Rosé 2013 ($19.90). This is not yet released because the winery believes in giving its rosé wines some bottle age. This is made with Gamay Noir. The wine was fermented and aged six or seven months in concrete eggs. Once again, the texture is juicy, with aromas and flavours of strawberry and cherry. The finish is dry. 90.

Haywire White Label Pinot Noir 2012 ($22.90). This is also available in the LDB. The grapes are from the Secrest Vineyard near Oliver, a vineyard with which OCP has a long-term contract. This wine was fermented in stainless steel and aged in neutral oak barrels, preserving the delicacy and the charm of its aromas and savoury cherry flavours. The texture is silky. 90.

Haywire Baby Bub NV ($13.90 for a 375 ml bottle).  This summer wine is a bit of a teaser, with the release of 300 cases for sale at the winery and to restaurants. This is a traditional method sparkling wine, 50% Chardonnay and 50% Pinot Noir. A Syrah dosage has given it an appealing rose hue. It is a cheerful and juicy sparkler with lively flavours of strawberry, a summer wine that has been flying of the shelf at the winery. 88

A vintage-dated big brother, simply called Bub, is still aging in bottle. The winery made 1,200 cases in the 2013 vintage, along with another 100 cases of “Ancient Method.” That is a bone dry sparkling wine, made without the usual additional of sugar because the wine is allowed to finish bottle fermentation just with its natural sugar.

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