“Oak in wine should be like a ghost in a chateau,” says vigneron Pierre Seillan. “You sense its presence, but you don’t actually perceive it.”
For many years, oak barrels have been used to ferment wine, softening it as well as adding light touches, but this trend is on the decline; in the last decade shifting tastes and a return to using concrete show that the industry might soon be revolutionised.
Says David Williams, contributor to the wine section of The Guardian: “The forward-thinking winery’s vessel of choice is the concrete vat.” Concrete vats negate the downsides of oak and stainless-steel options, while in some cases retaining their advantages.
Enter the age of the concrete vat, a resource that adds no flavour to the wine and like oak, it’s porous but less likely to yield as much bacteria as oak. The ingress of oxygen helps tannins to develop, says Williams; in this way, concrete lets winemakers strike a middle ground between oak and stainless steel.
Moreover, cleaning concrete vats is much easier as it’s more hardwearing and well-insulated – these marvellous wine-bearing egg-shaped containers have the benefit of letting dead yeast cells circulate and so bring added texture to the end-product.
While top winemakers use concrete, including Château Petrus, it’s going to be a difficult game to change a global oak-barrelled inspired method of fermentation that has spanned over centuries. The lynchpin for a concrete alternative is education and awareness in the industry. According to Williams, “the subtle interplay of wood and grape is simply too hardwired into most drinkers’ pleasure zones to give up on entirely”.
Time will tell whether concrete will impact the wine industry and its consumers. Meanwhile, read more on the vats used to make wine using concrete: https://bit.ly/2oCUrKa.