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Concrete Wines to Try This Summer!

Trying to figure out which wine to try next from the William Chris Wine portfolio? Try a ‘concrete’ wine!

 

Did you know?

While making wine in concrete vessels seems like it’s a rather new winemaking technique, it’s quite similar to the ancient method of making wine. The first wines were produced in Georgia in fired-clay amphorae, called kvevri or qvevri, about 6,000 years ago. These first wines were likely a happy accident resulting from ancient peoples desire to store grapes in these vessels, either to transport them or store them away for the winter. In any case, when sealed, the natural yeasts on the skins of the grapes started to eat the sugar in the pulp of the grapes, which over time, broke down the grapes and fermented the juice that was released. When the jars were opened again what remained was ‘wine’! Qvevri or clay pots were used for thousands of years, until later being replaced by oak barrels. 

However, the use of clay, concrete, and stone vats to produce wine did not disappear; they have been used to produce wines in the Old World throughout the centuries. In fact, when visiting Château la Nerthe in Châteauneuf-du-Pape, France in 2018, I learned that the oldest part of the cellar, about 500 years old, had huge stone tanks made from the stone of the Roman amphitheater in Arles. These tanks are now decommissioned due to safety concerns, but were an absolute sight to behold. Now modern concrete and clay vessels can be found within the cellars of many modern old and new world producers. 

When William Chris purchased their five concrete eggs in 2019, they had the largest collection of concrete eggs outside of France. They are also the first and only U.S. winery to have a concrete Galileo, a cutting-edged, uniquely designed sphere-shaped tank, of which there are only 3 in the world used in production. While no longer in possession of the largest inventory of concrete eggs, William Chris Wines produces the most concrete wine in the state of Texas!

 

If you’ve attended a virtual tasting in the last two years or visited William Chris Vineyards, you’ve probably heard mention of concrete wines… or maybe you’ve seen the big concrete egg that greets guests in front of the Visitor’s Center. So, what are concrete wines?

 

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Concrete in winemaking

Concrete wines have been fully or partially fermented and/or matured in concrete vessels. These vessels vary in shape, from square tanks to oblong eggs, or perfectly round spheres. Other than a slight minerality, concrete itself does not influence the flavors or aromas of the varietal that it holds, so these wines retain the fruity and floral characteristics of the grape as well as the distinctive terroir where they were grown. It is also semi-porous and allows for microscopic amounts of oxygen to enter the vessel and interact with the wine, a process known as oxygenation. In general, oxygenation can help to soften tannins and add complexity to the aromas and flavors of the wine enhancing the texture and structure of these wines. So concrete maturation can gently oxygenate wines without masking floral and fruit characteristics. 

In contrast, inert stainless-steel tanks do not impart any flavors or aromas on the wine by prohibiting oxygenation. On the other hand, oak imparts flavors and aromas directly from the oak itself as well as from the oxidation that occurs as small amounts of oxygen enter the barrel over time. 

In addition, concrete eggs, like those at William Chris, aid wine in naturally moving within the egg during fermentation. As the heat given off by the fermentation process moves the warmer matter (grapes, juice, MOG [material other than grapes]) from the bottom of the tank to the top, the cooler matter falls to the bottom. This thermodynamic process allows for the skins to interact with more of the juice, extracting more color and tannin into the wine, and reducing the need for more intensive cap management practices. 

 

Great summer wines

Now that the Texas summer is in full swing, like you, I’m looking to drink cold and refreshing wines. White and rosé produced in stainless steel are great, but can leave you feeling like they only have one note – acidity. Reds can be chilled, but those matured in oak can be tricky because high tannin wines only become more bitter when chilled. That’s why I’m excited about wines that are produced using concrete. These wines span the full spectrum of styles from sparkling to red, offering more complexity through structure and texture while retaining their beautiful fruit and floral characteristics. 

Wine structure refers to the balance of the key components of the wine, i.e., acidity, alcohol level, sweetness, tannins, and body. A well-structured wine means that all of the factors balance each other out, with no one factor overpowering the others. Wine texture refers to ‘mouthfeel’ resulting from the acidity, tannin, alcohol, and sugar in the wine. In other words, the wine is velvety, smooth, grippy, or oily in your mouth or across your tongue. Fermentation and maturation in concrete is one way the winemaking team creates beautifully well-balanced and nicely textured wines. 


 

Myself? I’m currently crushing on the 2021 Grenache Rosé from Vintage Press Vineyards! It’s a light peach colored wine with beautiful floral aromas of hibiscus and rose, notes of strawberry, and wet chalk owing to the limestone terroir at Vintage Press heightened by the concrete egg itself. On the palate, this wine is dry, and balanced in acidity, alcohol, and those grippy tannins, leaving a smooth lightly-buttered toast finish. This rosé is an excellent wine for the white wine drinker looking to try a little color in their glass and is complex enough to please even the most staunch red-only devotee. It pairs perfectly with your grilled favorites like pork chops, brisket, or burgers, but don’t over chill this wine or you’ll miss the nuance in aromas and flavors.

 

Try the latest concrete wines!

Looking to try a concrete wine for yourself? William Chris Wines currently offers quite a selection across its brands. Keep an eye out for these wines in your wine club, online, and in the tasting rooms! 

William Chris Vineyards

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  • 2021 Grenache Rosé, Vintage Press Vineyard (100% concrete)
  • 2021 Petillant Natural Rosé
  • 2021 Sauvignon Blanc, Dell Valley Vineyard
  • 2019 Syrah, High Cross Vineyards (coming this September!)
  • 2020 Marsanne, Hoover Valley Vineyard (now known as Uplift Vineyard; 100% concrete)
  • 2019 Cinsaut, La Pradera Vineyards
  • 2020  Cinsaut, Texas High Plains
  • Wines from the Wanderer Series collection

 

Lost Draw Cellars

  • 2021 Counoise Rosé, Crookhouse Vineyards
    2021 Rosé, Uplift Vineyard (also known as "Jordy Juice")

 

Grower Project

  • 2020 Albariño, Blackwater Draw Vineyard (fermented in concrete)
  • 2021 Rosé, Letkemen Family Vineyard

 

Skeleton Key

  • 2021 Sauvignon Blanc, Dell Valley Vineyard

     

* Wines not marked ‘100% concrete’ are blends of concrete and oak or stainless maturation

 


 

Asia headshot

 
Asia (pronounced 'ah-shuh') is the author of the blog Wine For All Time and
has a passion for stirring up enthusiasm about Texas wine, and the people and
places that make it happen. She is a certified Specialist of Texas Wine since
2021 and recently earned her Level 3 certification through the Wine & Spirits Education Trust (WSET).
Asia has a PhD in Health Economics from Cornell University and currently
works in the pharmaceutical industry supporting drug development research.