Authored by: Peter Fraser & Brad Hickey
Two McLaren Vale winemakers reveal why they’ve opted for alternative vessels for some of their more interesting wines. Instead of traditional barrels or tanks, Peter Fraser of Yangarra Estate experiments with ceramic eggs and Brad Hickey of Brash Higgins is all about clay amphorae.
Ceramic wine egg: Peter Fraser
I’d been watching people using concrete eggs and vessels, and tasted a few wines, like Chateauneuf-du-Pape, that had been fermented in concrete tanks. I like the texture and added interest they bring, but from my days of working in the Barossa, waxing concrete tanks didn’t really appeal to me.
Concrete eggs had been around in France, but I didn’t want to go down the avenue of epoxy painting or waxing them; I thought the more natural they could be, the better.
In 2012, Phil Sedgman of Flowforms, who makes the forms for our biodynamic preparations, showed me a 675-litre ceramic egg he’d made for wine fermentation and storage. I decided to trial two eggs for roussanne and two for grenache. I felt that they were the perfect size from a hygiene perspective, and they weren’t as porous as concrete or clay, so we didn’t have to line them.
During the 2013 vintage, we trialed extended maceration on skins in one egg; in the other, we traditionally made the wine in open fermenters and then used the egg purely as a storage vessel. Particularly for the grenache, we really liked what we got out of the wine on skins. We got a real exaggeration of the cherry fruit, and the tannins became finer, more chamois-like. Being a more elegant, medium-bodied variety, grenache has traditionally been suited to large-format barrels, so the egg was a nice option away from oak, without the simpleness of wines made in stainless steel.
For the roussanne, we do half on skins and half using the vessels for post-ferment storage, and those blending components give the wine a real freshness. We’ve found that the ceramic egg exacerbates the roussanne’s textures and flavour profiles, which may have to do with the oxidative interaction with the ceramic.
Because they emulate concrete or clay in that they’re slightly insulative, they seem to have a more uniform temperature for fermentation, so we see some interesting kinetics where the fermentation starts with less vigour, but finishes with less lag-time than a traditional ferment in a barrel or tank. I don’t know how much science is behind it, but the vessel potentially encourages some convection, so there are probably some good benefits there, too. I can’t explain it all, but it just seems to work.