THE STAGES OF WINE MAKING IN AMPHORA EXPLAINED BY AN EXPERT IN BIODYNAMICS. “THE AMPHORA, A GOOD BALANCE BETWEEN ROMANTICISM AND PRACTICALITY”. THE EXPERIENCE OF WINE PRODUCERS “AL DI LA’ DEL FIUME”
2015/09/28 Adriano Zago / amphora / amphora and wine / artenova / benefits / biodynamic agriculture / biodynamic wines / cellar / fermentation / grape / grapes / healthy / maceration / oenologist / punching down / Terracotta / vineyards / whole grape / wine making / winemaking
In the last few days Wine Producers “Al di Là del Fiume” (meaning “On the far side of the river”) have just concluded their grape harvest. The Estate, which grows Barbera and Albana grapes, nestles in the hills of Marzabotto (Bologna) and has been using the method of biodynamic agriculture since right from when it first started. They have also chosen to make their wine in terracotta using Artenova amphorae. From the photos in vineyards and wine cellar which Al di Là del Fiume have kindly sent us, we take the opportunity for a glimpse into the process of wine making in amphora which at the moment, specially during the grape harvest concerns companies who have chosen to make their wine in terracotta.
On this subject we spoke with the consultant of Al di Là del Fiume, oenologist and agronomist Adriano Zago who is also a technical consultant of Artenova together with oenologist Francesco Bartoletti. In particular with Zago, who is an expert in biodynamic techniques, we tried to understand why terracotta is such a marvellous material for enabling the process of wine making while strictly adhering to biodynamic protocols. Without forgetting that biodynamic wines are also made in barrels, Zago explains, “Let’s say that within the biodynamic sphere there are more wines fermented in amphorae which are ready before the conventional wines.” But why are terracotta amphorae so close to biodynamics? “Terracotta is a completely handmade and natural material- Zago explains – and is as far removed as possible from steel or even from wood. The amphora is pure simplicity. With the amphora there is very little mechanization, everything is manual, or reasonably manual, something that adapts to many situations. It is suitable for long maceration times and because of its porous structure it is also good for oxygenation. Wines made in amphora have a style that stands out among biodynamic wines, however as I say, there are biodynamic wines made in barrels. The amphora is a good balance between romanticism and practicality. ”
Speaking of biodynamic agriculture, we start by relating what happens in the vineyard and how the grapes are worked as compared to traditional viticulture.
In the Vineyard: more respect for the land and “terroir”
In biodynamic agriculture to look after your vineyards well is a must. If the vines are well cared for then natural remedies are effective and conclusive. “You cannot resort to tricks as in conventional methods and for this – says Zago – biodynamic vineyards are on average looked after better. There is a greater respect for the land and “terroir” you know that you have to get the best from what you have starting from your land because any work you undergo in the cellar can only follow on from the work you’ve done in the vineyard and any bad jobs end up worse. ”
In the Cellar: grapes taken off their stalks, put in jars and nothing else
In biodynamics you tend not to use sulphites when the grapes are healthy. “But for the tiny amount we are allowed to use – Zago points out – sulphites are useful to keep the wine good, to allow it to travel and endure the shortcomings of conservation that are always present. Plus it gives a minimum of protection to the wine in order for the quality to be consistent”.
Just as they are, then, the grapes are de-stemmed and put straight into the amphorae. “I prefer the whole grape to the crushed – says Zago – I believe it creates a more fragrant maceration.” After that, fermentation begins within 1-3 days. The fermentation is spontaneous because we do not use yeast additives to the wine.
The Punching-down, the process by which the skins and pips floating on top during fermentation are broken up, is a manual operation that takes place even up to 4 times a day until the end of the alcoholic fermentation. The next phase is that of maceration: the skins remain in infusion in a hydro-alcoholic liquid.
Amphora up to 6 months however…
The wine can remain in the amphora from 1 to 6 months. Usually we try to avoid leaving it in the amphora when the weather starts to get warmer and certainly not beyond the next harvest. However there are experiences of leaving the wine in amphora for longer, an interesting frontier to experiment.
Companies who practice biodynamic winemaking, who also use wood and steel as well as amphorae, generally adopt these techniques. Then there are extreme transversal technical choices: the late harvest of the grapes, for example, is one of them.
“The benefits of the amphora – concludes our expert in biodynamics – are that it is eternal compared with wood and up till now no microbiological contamination of Brettanomyces have ever been found in amphora. But above all the amphora is increasingly identified for wines made in a certain style, it is a technical means that allows you to make precise wines. Amphora wines are elegant, defined. It ‘a container that responds well to the choices we make and as the amphora is in itself a characterization of wine of a certain style, it is more and more a stylistic choice”.
Here is the email to Artenova from Danila Mongardi owner of Al di Là del Fiume
Hello everyone, it’s my great pleasure to inform you that we have just finished our harvest of Barbera and Albana grapes. It has been a very hot summer so we hope that this years’ vintage is special.
We plan to bottle around March 2016, and to have a production of about 12,000 bottles of Albana and Barbera some made in our Tuscan terracotta amphorae and others made in steel.
We look forward to working together next year bearing in mind our philosophy “for the well-being of humanity and the fertility of the Earth”
Best wishes from all of us