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May 10, 2011
OCP Lays an Egg on the Okanagan
Anyone notice something unusual in the back yard?


Boom, boom …Boom, boom……da…… tah……TAH DAHHH!

One could almost hear the trumpeting opening bars of Thus Spake Zarathustra as winery owner Chris Coletta hauled up the garage door of her North Vancouver office to reveal a six-foot tall, black egg squatting on her back patio.

It was an object that had been perplexing her neighbours for days. Was it an oversized pizza oven? Some sort of groovy art installation? Were there pterodactyls in the neighbourhood? Proof that Thetans really do live among us?

Buzzzzzzz! None of the above. The correct answer was: Concrete Wine Fermenter.

A what?

Well, it really shouldn’t be so surprising. Anyone who follows the wine world these days knows that bio-dynamic, old-fashioned methods are where it’s at. Whether that be in the use of ladybugs as pest removers, sheep as weed whackers, or carts and draft horses as vineyard trucks. Replacing tech lab stainless steel fermenting tanks with ones constructed from earthen concrete is just the next modern idea whose time has come, while at the same time, harkening back to a pre-biblical era when wine juice was left to mature in terracotta urns.

This particular fermenter on view at last Friday’s media press conference was just one of six that Coletta and husband Steve Lornie plan to install in their new Okanagan Crush Pad winery in Summerland this summer. And they are not going to all the trouble just to be trendy. The theory is that the concrete tanks may offer all the benefits of wood barrel fermenters without their drawbacks (flavouring of the wine, problems with cleaning.)

Unlike modern stainless steel tanks, the slightly porous concrete permits a gentle diffusion of oxygen, letting the juice breath, and thus fostering brighter wines with more pronounced fruit aroma. The copper coils embedded within the egg’s concrete walls offer maximum temperature control, while its curved shape allows more of the cap (skins and pulp floating on the top of the grape juice during fermentation) to stay submerged, resulting in a more colour-dense wine.

It’s a system that OCP’s consulting vinoculturist from Italy, Alberto Antonini, highly approves of. In Europe, concrete fermentation tanks are quite common, if not quite as stylish as these ones. Says Antonini:

“Concrete is especially good for enhancing the work of natural wild yeasts during fermentation, and the cooling is more like that of an underground cellar. It doesn’t suddenly shock the sun-heated grapes the way that frozen plate steel does. This process produces a wine that is more alive, whereas the sterility of stainless steel makes it dead. Why would you want wine that is dead?”

The “eggs” are produced by Sonoma Cast Stone of Petaluma, California (the same people who make the kind of eco-look sinks and bathtubs you see in upscale decorating magazines), and more detailed info about the company can be found on their website. Okanagan Crush Pad is the first in Canada to use their winery product, and that distinction has prompted OCP to add the slogan “Raised in Concrete” to its branding.

It’s not the only shake-em up, game-changing move we’ve seen Okanagan Wine Pad make in just its first year of operations. And no doubt, the Okanagan wine scene can expect to see many more interesting innovations from this talented winemaking tag team.

Even now, it’s okay to say "They've really gone and laid an egg this time."


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