Concrete Waffles – Not Eggs: Focus on Authentic, Natural wines

The wine world has gone crazy for Concrete! 

It seems modern winemaking has finally cycled through a complete rotation, and it only took forty years! Wineries went from rooms crammed with shining stainless steel tanks and stacks of pristine new barrels to building the same Concrete tanks that were used in Europe for a millennia.

To take advantage of the wonders of modern winemaking, every year Californian wineries bought New French Oak barrels and picked up the newest, fanciest filters and de-stemmers. This mentality drove the success of winery suppliers that encourage producers to buy more cool stuff to make “better” wines. Sounds a bit like modern healthcare or even the Military Industrial Complex, eh?

Stolpman has been backing off of New French Oak percentages for four vintages now and we’re more focused than ever on making authentic wines. We define authentic as pure, natural wine. Stolpman wines are left largely free and un-manipulated in the vineyard through organic dry farming, minimal green harvesting, and cultivation by hand. We natively ferment our wines, manually punching down the skin caps, relying on gravity to transfer wines to minimize the use of pumps, and we shun additives or filtration. This year, we won’t add sulfur to any of the fruit lots arriving at the winery!

This year also marks the first use of our 6 new Concrete Fermentors. We installed them last week complete with a catwalk on top so we can stand above to circulate the chambers by hand. The tanks are elevated by giant concrete legs and the floors are curved so that all of the skins will flow into a bin once we open the bottom hatch. The juice can drain directly into neutral oak barrels, and the bins of skins and seeds can be lifted by forklift for a gentle pressing.

While it will still be another month before we put Syrah into the new Concrete, we’ve already put some of Rajat Parr’s Sandhi Pinot Noir picked from Rita’s Crown vineyard into one of them.

Because Rajat Parr tastes more international wine than anyone else I know, I asked him to articulate the differences he tastes in wines fermented in Concrete versus Stainless Steel or Oak. On the white side, he says “The best thing is that Concrete adds an extra layer of minerality and freshness to the wine that is clean without woody flavors. It allows high acid wines to stay nervy.” For red wines, Rajat says that Concrete is beneficial because “it keeps fermentation at a naturally stable temperature where the ferment won’t get too hot or cold”.

Sashi was inspired to design these concrete tanks on a trip he took to Patagonia with Rajat. They traveled to Bodega Noemia and saw concrete tanks designed for the same type of natural, pump-free winemaking that Sashi practices. Winemaker Hans Vinding-Diers and his partner Countess Noemi Marone Cinzano both raved about the ease of use and the subsequent quality of their unfiltered old-vine Malbec.

While some of the best European Chateaus and the most Prestigious wineries in Northern California have dropped hundreds of thousands on concrete eggs, we decided to take a more conventional route, and make waffles. After all, we want to make the best wine possible while keeping our price-points below the stratosphere. Concrete eggs are much smaller, extremely expensive tanks rounded into an oval with a wider base and gentle nose to promote the flow of wine that is found in a natural egg. By creating a tank in this shape, one is “incubating” the wine. We like our waffle design because the open-top squares (like a Belgian waffle) allow us to regulate the oxygen to naturally reductive Syrah, and we can easily punch the cap down to make sure the juice absorbs all of the Syrah’s beautiful color and skin tannin.

Sashi worked with Micah Utter, CEO of Vino Vessel in Paso Robles to make sure the tanks were exactly what he wanted for Stolpman. We’re looking forward to the arrival of two more concrete fermentors before Syrah harvest begins.

As great as the vineyard looks right now and with Sashi’s focus on new tools, 2012 is shaping up to once again redefine how great our wines can be!