Did anyone happen to catch the article in the Weekend Australian Magazine last weekend titled “A Drop In The Ocean”?
If you missed it, turns out winemakers all over the world are cellaring wine… in the ocean…
Yes, you did read that right. In the ocean.
Producers in France, Spain, Greece and even Australia are sinking bottles of wine to the seafloor and leaving them there for years to mature!
Inspired by drinkable sparkling wines found in shipwrecks that were hundreds of years old, winemakers are experimenting with cellaring wines of different varieties in varying conditions and depths.
Apparently, underwater is seen as an ideal environment in which to age and preserve wine. Hydrostatic pressure, constant temperatures, the rocking motion of the currents (especially for sparkling wines on lees) along with the lack of light all contribute to pretty spot-on cellaring conditions.
The end product is reported to be more evolved, rounder, complex and elegant.
It got me thinking though… what other unusual things are winemakers doing with their wines?
Here are just a couple that come to mind:
So, while not a new thing, it’s experiencing somewhat of a renaissance around the globe.
So, why use clay?
Clay can be thought of as a middle ground between steel and oak. Stainless steel allows for an oxygen-free environment and does not impart any flavors into the wine. On the other hand, oak allows for plenty of oxygen to reach the juice and the tannins in the wood also affect the aromas and flavors of the wine.
Like oak, clay is porous, so it does allow for some oxygen giving the wine a deep and rich texture. But like steel it is a neutral material that won’t impart any additional flavors.
Some winemakers believe the egg fermenter’s shape, smooth internal surface, and lack of corners promotes a natural current or “vortex” within the fermenter.
One theory states that as active yeast ferments wine, it becomes lighter and rises to the top of the fermenter. Cooler wine then sinks to the bottom, resulting in the formation of a continuous convection current.
This “vortex” current causes lees (spent yeast) to remain in suspension throughout fermentation, thus helping to build texture and flavor in wines.
By comparison… fermenting wines are commonly stirred once a week in barrels, twice a week in stainless steel, and once a month in egg fermenters.
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The official definition of biodynamic farming according to the Biodynamic Farming and Gardening Association is “a spiritual-ethical-ecological approach to agriculture, gardens, food production and nutrition.”
Biodynamic wine is made with a set of farming practices that views the farm or vineyard as one solid organism.
Natural materials, soils, and composts are used to sustain the vineyard. Chemical fertilisers and pesticides are forbidden for the sake of soil fertility. A range of animals from ducks to horses to sheep live on the soil and fertilize it, creating a rich, fertile environment for the vines to grow in.
Biodynamic farming also seeks sustainability or leaving the land in as good or better shape as they found it for future generations.
That I can definitely get on board with.
But this is where, in my opinion, the science gets a little sketchy…
The cow horn
Biodynamic farming calls for specific and sometimes strange compost and field preparations. One of these is known as cow horn manure or preparation 500. Cow horns are stuffed with manure compost and buried into the ground all through the winter, then later excavated. Upon excavation, the stuffed material is spread throughout the vineyard.
There is little information out there about why specifically a cow horn is used (never a bull’s horn), or why it needs to be buried in the soil. According to the website BioDynamie Services, preparation 500 is “essential.” It “stimulates soil microbial activity of the soil,” regulates pH, stimulates seed germination, and dissolves minerals.
The biodynamic calendar (based on the lunar cycle) breaks all the tasks associated with farming into four kinds of days: root days, flower days, fruit days, and leaf days.
Each of these days has certain tasks associated with it that are reflective of Earth’s four classical elements:
- Fruit days are meant for harvesting,
- leaf days for watering,
- root days for pruning.
- On flower days, the vineyard is left alone.
And does all of this make biodynamic wines taste any different? The short answer is no. It’s practically impossible to pick a biodynamic wine from a blind tasting. But I’m not sure taste is the point of differentiation biodynamic winemakers are looking for here. Sustainability (and perhaps marketability??) seems to be the driving force behind this style of winemaking.
There is a winery here in South Australia selling Shiraz, aged in a barrel which is buried in the ground for 6 months for $250 a bottle!
I found an article by Max Allen for the Australian Financial Review in which he said “If it is just an expensive gimmick, it’s a bloody delicious one”!
And while he titled the article “Burying wine makes it taste amazing”, I’m not convinced it was the 6 months underground that made it so good.
Although, Max was able to taste an “overground” and “underground” version of the same wine and had this to say…
“The “overground” version is lovely: round, supple, remarkably drinkable already. But the “underground” version, fresh from its slumber in the cool dark earth, is delicious: much more vibrant, lively, with juicy black fruit and a grippy tang.”
So, perhaps I should leave the comparisons to the experts (and to those who have actually tasted it!)!
Even if these unusual winemaking and ageing techniques have absolutely no impact on the finished product, it sure does make for a nice story.
And who doesn’t love a good story?!