Terracotta, an alternative instrument in the hands of wine producers: stell and terracotta with 1701 Franciacorta

2019/05/21     / / / / / / / / / /

Steel, wood and terracotta in the “1701 Franciacorta” cellar

“We are all tired of wood and of having wines that are all the same” according to Paul White at the technical conference of Terracotta and Wine 2018, interpreting the tendency of the moment where woody flavours in wine aren’t necessarily appreciated by everyone anymore … We like to think that the terracotta amphora, as well as an alternative to wood is a tool in the hands of producers who can use it in combination with steel too (steel and terracotta for the wine producers from Cazzago in the south of Franciacorta, 1701 Franciacorta, with 1701 Sull’erba, nine months of initial fermentation in steel tanks and terracotta amphorae). This is what two wine producers from Northern Italy have done with Artenova wine jars. Read the article of February 2019 from “Il Gambero Rosso” in which Paul White, wine expert and world class journalist, a speaker at #terracottaandwine2018, talks about wines in wood vs wines in terracotta.

Read the article from Gambero Rosso:
Amphorae, jars and other ancestral containers are back in vogue

THE USE OF TERRACOTTA TO PRESERVE AND REFINE FOODS GOES BACK TO THE BEGINNINGS OF HUMAN CIVILIZATION. TODAY IT RETURNS TO EXCITE PRODUCERS, CRITICS AND THE GENERAL PUBLIC.

by Luciana Squadrilli (English translation by Roxana Edwards)

Ancient origins, sustainable practices and results that are as timely as ever. The use of terracotta to preserve and refine food – from wine to cheese – dates back to the dawn of human civilization: often forgotten, today it returns to inspire producers, critics and the public. From Italy to Oregon. In the February edition of Gambero Rosso, we have devoted a special to amphorae, jars and other ancestral containers.

“The amphora is the most modern wine production technique”. Categorical and resolute, this is Paul J. White, an American-born journalist and expert on wines, author of the Wine Disclosures website and correspondent for several international magazines. White was one of the speakers of the interesting (in content more than in title) conference “Terracotta for Professional Precision winemaking” on the occasion of the 2018 edition of Terracotta and Wine, an event organized by the homonymous association and by the company Artenova in the beautiful Fornace Agresti of Impruneta. In Tuscany, where from the ashes of the activity of artistic terracotta now in decline, a small producer has specialized in terracotta wine jars.

Tired of wines all the same

“We are all tired of wood and of having wines all the same ” continues White, whose affirmation – he states – is corroborated by the wine-tasting of the day and from years of field reportage. Certainly it might seem a stretch to tie the label of modernity to the most ancient food preservation material in history, spread for almost 2000 years in almost every corner of the planet. As underlined by the Armenian archaeologist Arthur Petrosyan of the University of Yerevan, the birth of clay and ceramic processing coincided exactly with the beginning of the permanence of the different populations due to farming and cultivation practices. As if to say: without terracotta there would have been no stuff like oil, wine, beer, garum – just to give a few examples – and vice versa, nor the commercial exchanges that were at the origin of empires and cultures.

And yet, to taste today the products made in amphora (or, more properly, in jars or other terracotta containers and similar materials, even if now the imprecise terminology has been affirmed) it seems really difficult to accuse them of archaism. And if tasting the wines in the traditional “marani” (Georgian wine-cellars where little has changed in centuries) one is amazed to find wines of great personality, elegant, pure and often crystalline, moderately trained tasters would really struggle to identify the exact fermentation technique or conservation of Piedmontese, Emilian, Austrian, French, Greek, Armenian, Australian, Portuguese or American wines present at the Tuscan event. Like those of Beckham Estate Vineyards, in Oregon, where, inspired by the wines of Elisabetta Foradori, in 2013 Andrew Beckham started the Amphora Project, with the creation of his own vessels and their contents.

Georgia

A treasure of knowledge, practices and manual skills lost in the mists of time which have long been abandoned, at least regarding the processing of grapes. Georgia is the only area of ​​the world where the use of terracotta amphorae for the fermentation of grapes has continued without interruption. One of the world cradles of wine, at the time designated by the Supreme Soviet Union to be the wine cellar for the USSR. Elsewhere, from Armenia to Portugal, the tradition has been extinguished in a sudden manner or in a slow oblivion, to respect external diktats or commercial needs dictated by changing lifestyles.

The Italian way with Gravner

And in Italy? Spread mainly as containers for transport since Roman times – not only for wine, but also for wheat and oil – amphorae and jars have gradually disappeared almost everywhere; traces have remained, now obsolete, mostly linked to regional uses such as the Apulian “capasoni” (small jars for wine) or the Tuscan oil jars, abandoned when it was understood that for this product even the slightest oxygenation is detrimental : better to use them to embellish courtyards and cellars, with their vintage charm.

We owe it to Josko Gravner, the stubborn frontier winemaker – the one between Friuli Venezia Giulia and Slovenia – for the introduction and subsequent diffusion of terracotta for modern Italian winemaking, straddling the old and the new millennium

The beginnings

Josko heard about the use of wine amphorae in the 1990s for the first time from a friend who worked at the WWF, newly returned from a trip to Georgia that had just left the former Soviet Union. After the first tests with a small amphora acquired there, he had to wait for the year 2000 before being able to go to Georgia to learn the traditional techniques that had been maintained there over the centuries. Further years went by before he could start the production of amphora wines with his own grapes: at the beginning he used chardonnay, sauvignon, pinot grigio and italic riesling, for the mythical Breg in amphora; then only ribolla, for him the main expression of the territory where he was born and where he works. Since then, thanks to the incredible depth of his wines and his peasant aura of brusque manners and refined thought, Gravner’s name has become an absolute reference point for Amphora Wine.

The winemakers from all over Italy who have followed in his footsteps

Many winemakers from all over Italy have followed in his footsteps, some in a philological and declared way, some experimenting with different materials, different vinification or aging techniques and adapting the container to grapes and specific territories: from the “Nosiola in anfora” by Elisabetta Foradori to the “Zibibbo in pithos” by “COS” (acronym of the surnames of Giambattista Cilia, Giusto Occhipinti and Cirino Strano) from Vittoria, in the province of Ragusa. Among others are the interesting realities from Romagna, grouped in the “AN son miga FORA” project, led by Carlo Catani (former director of the UNISG of Pollenzo and author of “Io Bevo Romagnolo” I drink Romagnolo) with the aim of favouring cultural exchanges and knowledge between local winemakers and Georgian colleagues.

But take note: terracotta is not only for wine

Today terracotta is also suitable for other products, re-proposing ancient uses or even finding new ones. With remote origins, for example, we have the “Conciato Romano”, an intense cheese produced in present-day Campania since ancient Roman times, if not earlier. The cheeses obtained from cow, sheep or goat’s milk and goat’s rennet, are not too large and are treated with the cooking water of “Pettole” (a typical homemade pasta) which covers the forms with a thin layer of starch, and then seasoned with a mixture of oil, vinegar, herbs and chilli before maturing for a long time – from 6 months to 2 years – in terracotta jars until they acquire a pungent and persistent taste. The credit goes to the almost totally anaerobic condition of the amphorae that today are glazed inside for hygienic reasons but are equipped with a cork that allows slight oxygenation. Thus the cheeses re-ferment and remain moist, and after at least nine months they become creamy and intense; before this the cheese is more delicate and remains hard enough to be grated or cut into flakes as though it were a truffle.

 

 

 

 

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