It is a truth universally acknowledged that oak barrels and grape juice are a match made in heaven. Though we will always remain faithful to the trusty barrique, hogshead or puncheon, there exists a plethora of alternatives out there to play with.
At Witches Falls, we like to utilise oak as well as stainless steel tanks to ferment our wines.
Stainless steel method
Unlike barrels, which impart oaky characteristics, tannins, and maturation, steel tanks provide a fresh, cleaner finish. White wines that have been aged in steel, such as our Provenance Vermentino and Sauvignon Blanc, tend to exhibit crisp, fruity characteristics and an easy-drinking freshness.
Many winemakers see stainless steel fermentation as a means of capturing a different, brighter style of white. Whilst the less cool environment afforded by barrel fermentation and maturation imparts less of those crisp, zesty characteristics, it does produce greater complexity and maturation, as well as those elegant oaky flavours.
Stainless Steel Alternatives?
Beyond stainless steel, there exists many more wacky and wonderful alternatives for fermentation, with each having a profoundly different effect on the finished product. One such alternative is concrete, used more commonly in the past and nowadays functions primarily as an homage to history. Concrete tanks offer a variety of shapes and sizes, including cubes, cylinders, and even egg-shaped vessels. Those in favour of egg-shaped vessels profess a capacity for their self-stirring qualities. That is, as the grape juice ferments, carbon dioxide bubbles rise up along the sides of the egg, creating a liquid funnel to the bottom.
Arguably, this provides the wine with a greater structure. In spite of this, the polarity between concrete’s basic pH and wine’s critical acidity creates fundamental issues for fermentation. To counter this, vessels are coated in wax, which creates a protective barrier between concrete and wine. This prevents the wine from effectively ‘eating’ through the concrete.
A slightly more divisive technique of fermentation is artificial ageing. Current trends tend to dictate that wine should be subject to as little interference as possible, thus remaining as ‘natural’ as possible. Techniques such as exposure to oxygen or extreme temperatures are among the most common in artificial ageing; however more extreme processes such as shaking the wine, or exposing it to radiation, ultrasonic, or magnetic waves also exist.
So why bother using such divergent vessels for fermentation? It’s a beautiful way to exhibit the manner in which a grape can present under alternative and unusual conditions. Variations in texture and flavour can be substantial even on a single varietal. We encourage you to try our stainless steel fermented Sauvignon Blanc in comparison with its oaked counterpart, the Wild Ferment Sauvignon Blanc. Crisp, refined, and citrusy characteristics of our unwooded sauv juxtapose beautifully with grassy, layered, and distinctive notes on our Wild Ferment.