Wine Making Back to its Roots

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Denelle Shemesh

The winemaking process begins in the earth. Nature creates beautiful vines whose history is rooted deep in the soil. Old branches sprout new life every year in formed bunches, bunches of grapes that slowly ripen. Vintners wait patiently for just the right time and then pick, process, and wait once more. So why have winemakers strayed from the historically documented process of winemaking? Using Qvevri clay vessels dates back 8,000 years to the Georgian Era. Although many folks may recognize the reddish clay pots from history books, few really understand the significance they had on the development of winemaking.

A leader and innovator in the use of the terracotta clay vessels for wine fermentation is Josko Gravner.  Deep in his vineyard, located in the northeastern region of Italy, hides a number of buried vessels. “The ground has all the life you need to give birth to grapes,” Gravner says. “A vine needs the earth to make a grape. Once you have that grape, you need the earth again to make the wine.” Although many winemakers still prefer traditional methods, others are looking toward the future, seeking out innovative ways of taking their wines to the next level. But what if nature and innovation collide?

What was once old can be new again. That is exactly what has happened with the wine industry in America, particularly, California.  There has been a big buzz lately about the “next big thing”…the egg-shaped vessel. In the December edition of Wine Business Monthly, the cover story features large cement egg tanks. The coverage coincides with their March event, I+Q…Innovation + Quality, a “forum for ultra-premium wineries to focus on cutting-edge innovations that advance wine quality.” Vessels will be the main topic for discussion. Some of the West Coast’s largest wineries, such as Francis Ford Coppola Winery, Jackson Family Wines, and Michael Mendovi, are gathering there to discuss the new designs and new material vessels that have caught their interest. Cement tanks have been in wineries for years. But the chatter among these monster wineries is what’s now considered the next big thing in winemaking.

Vital Vessels, a California company, has recently introduced a ceramic egg vessel, the Magnum, to U.S. winemakers. Phil Sedgman, CEO of Living Water Flowforms, developed this egg technology from a tiny workshop in Byron Bay, Australia. Sedgman, assisted by Callum Coats, a gentleman revered as an expert on Viktor Schauberger’s work, created an egg-shaped vessel that mimics the hyperbolic cone design.  Schauberger, a naturalist, philosopher, and visionary inventor of the early 1900’s, sported a particular motto around invention. He said, “Comprehend and copy nature.” That’s just what Sedgman and Coats have done. Following his study of Schauberger’s work, Coats pioneered the shape some 20 years ago, and with his assistance, Living Water Flowforms has brought the vessel to fruition.