It is many times confused that the use of anforae is related to the so called “natural” wines. Honestly, it has nothing to do with natural or not as one can put a complete chemically and physically altered wine into an anfora. Will the anfora “clean” the wine? I don’t believe so.
And so, what is this fuzz around the anforae? To my opinion, it is the fact of returning into time and discovering something “new” for today’s modern and anticeptic world, which could possibly sell a few bottles more. A marketing tool in other words.
The reason why I started using these terracotta vessels was the simple fact that great terroir wine according to me should not have any taste influence from the equipment used in vinifying. And thus wood for example is excluded.
After 3 years of using the anforae, I unfortunately discovered an increasing degree of bacterial infection using these vessels as well as an excessive amount of oxygen exchange for my “zero-products-added winemaking”. And so after running one test anfora in 2005, I lined all my anforae in 2006 with epoxy, like generally in concrete/cement containers, with the result that my wines had gotten a quantum leap better in terms of precession and “elevage”.
The problem of the anforae is that they come from an age where excellence in winemaking was a small percentage of the complete process of producing wine. Today, the excellence in winemaking (low yields, elevage, oxygen management, bottling, …) is a necessity to be able to express “terroir”.
Analyzing the quality of the clay has taught me that the quality of the clay types being used to make these vessels in general is very poor and relatively big in grain. This means that the vessels in general can hardly contain the liquid inside and need to be treated in some way not to loose the liquid inside. On the other hand, the walls, even if they hold wine inside, are partly porous and so the wall absorbs over time wine which will accumulate infection if not cleaned deep into the wall of the vessel with either sulphur or other chemical cleaning. Which I absolutely want to avoid.
Talking about “plastic” is rarely appreciated and “politically not correct” as it is related to the modern consumption society. Although it is a material which we all use daily. And in winemaking it is used in buckets, tubs, baskets, cases, etc… When we talk plastic, we are using a generic word, although we are talking an enormous diversity of materials, like Polyethylene, Polycarbonate, Polypropylene, …
I started using a HDPE (High Density Polyethylene) tub for the first time in 2003. And after 3 years of trying and testing, the results in fermenting were even better compared to the clay vessels in terms of precision of fruit. This was also due to my experience with better oxygen management as well as the slightly bigger mass of fruit inside the tubs compared to my anforae.
And so I started to gradually adopt these HDPE tubs for fermenting as well as special decanting jars for the wines which less time for elevage (Contadino, Susucaru and MunJebel Bianco). With great results, understanding very well the environmental limits of “plastic”.
An obvious and often asked question is why I do not use stainless steel? Well, the answer is simple: due to the effect of ion-exchange regarding wine stored in stainless steel, the wine becomes reductive and needs often oxygen (pump-over) which will eventually kill the wine if one does not use sulphur in every pump over. And so for my style of winemaking I need other containers, with what I call “a soft touch”.
What would be the perfect material in the end? To my opinion, porcelain would be perfect. The problem is that I have never seen any vessel of let’s say 500 liters or more in porcelain… and using tiles in porcelain is also a compromise as these need to be glued onto some surface and thus do not create a 100% coverage of the surface. Another issue is the fact that these tiles can only be fixed on flat walls which are less adapted for winemaking than round volumes for the pressure points in the angles.
Hopefully we will receive next year a few ceramic containers which could be a “near perfect” compromise, although these will be tested and re tested before using them throughout our entire production. Time will tell.
Meanwhile we concentrate on what is most important of all to make great terroir wines: concentrated and perfectly mature grapes!
September 9th, 2012