Grapes on the vines

Egg Heads - Fermentation in Egg Vessels

15 April - Katherine Haycock

Fermenting wine in egg shaped vessels is a specialised technique being used by modern Australian winemakers, but at a Tasting Australia wine master class we learned that it has its origins in ancient Roman times.

We have grown used to seeing winemakers surrounded by industrial fermentation vats but there is a gentle movement towards an ancient egg shaped fermentation taking place amongst boutique vineyards. The Romans used terracotta amphorae in their winemaking and I wonder what they would think of the modern ‘egg’ vats being used by producers now. The Australian supplier, Magnum 675 in Byron Bay, makes large 675 litre slip cast ceramic egg vats. It says the iconic egg shape promotes passive convection within, allowing developing wine to “live and breathe”. Winemakers agree that the shape of these vessels gives the wine a distinctive purity that cannot be achieved in oak or stainless steel. During fermentation heat is dissipated by the egg shape. The egg therefore tames a wine, making it lighter and more elegant.

Peter Fraser at Yangarra Estate Vineyard uses natural yeasts and his treasured ‘eggs’ to produce the Roux Beaut Roussane and the Ovitelli (spot the pun) Grenache. These wines sit on skins in the egg for several months and are then returned to the vessel off skin to mature.

Koerner Wine in Clare Valley have been using the ceramic wine eggs for its 2017 sangiovese Niellucciu, letting it sit untouched for 10 months before bottling without fining or filtration.

Giant Steps Wine produced the first single vineyard Gruyere Farm Vineyard ‘Ocarina’ Chardonnay in a ceramic egg fermenter producing a wine with an extraordinary pristine, stony, mineral character. It only made 100 cases of this wine.

This raises questions about the commercial future of this trend. There’s no doubt we’ll see more of these eggs across our best vineyards. Their cost is comparable to new oak barrels. The use of ceramics or concrete in their manufacturing means they’ll last forever in theory, although early models did suffer from a humpty dumpty egg cracking problem. New techniques are underway for improved design of concrete egg tanks by such companies as Sonoma Cast Stone in the US, constructing large 1,600 litre fermenters from concrete. I

It seems likely that that eggs are here to stay but may remain in the boutique realm of wine making. Here are four egg shaped wines that you might like to try:

  • Giant Steps Ocarina Chardonnay 2017
  • Yangarra Roux Beaut Roussane 2016
  • Yangarra Ovitelli Grenache 2016
  • Koerner Niellucciu 2017

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