|The organic vineyards at Salcheto in Montepulciano. The photo's here because tank photos, even of unique tanks, are ugly.|
this has been named Best Industry Blog, I guess I'd better earn it.
Salcheto Winery in Montepulciano, Italy has an interesting new fermentation system that co-owner and winemaker Michele Manelli says was developed specifically for them. The goal is softer tannins and more extraction.
Take a look at the tank at right. The two holes lead to separate chambers. On top is a normal closed-tank fermentation system: grapes go in, and as the yeast converts sugar into alcohol, CO2 is created as a byproduct.
What this new system does is collect the CO2 at the top of the tank and pump it to the smaller chamber below, where it is stored until Manelli decides it's time to break up the "cap" of floating grapeskins. Then he releases the CO2 from valves into the main tank, where it bubbles up gently through the cap.
Thanks to reader Joel DeGonia to pointing out that this system has been on sale in Italy for a while. Here's a brochure. Note the industrial size of the tanks in the brochure. The one I saw at Salcheto was probably about 20 feet high. So is this megawinery-designed technology scaled down?
The reuse of CO2 fits neatly with the environmental/technical philosophy of Salcheto, a 15,000 case winery that seems concerned with high-tech sustainability at every step. The vineyards are certified organic. Every part of the winery, even the basement, is lit by natural light brought from the surface through a system of pipes with mirrors in them. There's a thriving green wall of plants on one side of the winery to reduce heating costs. It's an impressive place.
As for the new technique itself, I'm sure there are California wineries that would be interested in a visit. I think it's too early to tell how it will affect the wines. I found the winery's 2009 Vino Nobile di Montepulciano too tannic, which the new system is designed to address. The 2006 "Salco Evoluzione" is quite ripe and seems targeted for fans of big Super Tuscans, but also was held back by oppressive tannins. Presumably this system will advance its, er, evoluzione.