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Monday, August 26, 2013

Vessels for winemaking

Qvevri used at Castle Hill Cider
in Keswick, Virginia
26.08.2013. Take a tour of most wineries in the United States and you will notice most have stainless steel tanks and oak barrels. Some will ferment in these as well as age wine in these vessels. Plastic bins are also popular for fermenting small batches of grapes. There are also plastic tanks that you may see while visiting wineries. In France, earlier this summer, we saw many cement tanks. They are popular in France because they are made in the winery to a specific capacity, often corresponding to a vineyard plot. In Croatia earlier this year we observed oak barrels as well as barrels made from acacia.

What vessel has been used the longest for fermenting and aging wines? For the answer one should visit wineries in the country Georgia. Viticulture and winemaking were firmly established in the region south of the Caucasus Mountains for several millennia prior to the introduction viticulture and winemaking to western Europe. People living in the land now encompassing Georgia have been making wine for 6,000 – 8,000 years. Clay pots have been found dating back to before 4,000 BCA; they were used for fermentation and to age wine.

Qvevri are large clay vessels used to ferment grapes and age wine. They are used today in Georgia and have been continuously used for these processes for thousands of uninterrupted years. This would make qvevri the oldest type of vessel for winemaking. If one were to make a timeline of winemaking through the ages, stainless steel tanks would be just a pin hole on the timeline. Qvevri would take up most of the timeline. More qvevri are made in Georgia as many of the Georgian wineries are making traditional qvevri wines.

Although there are variations on the theme, grapes are harvested and placed in the qvevri that are buried in the ground to maintain a constant temperature. Fermentation and aging is done in the qvevri. About six months later, the qvevri are opened and the wine is sampled. A well-made qvevri white wine is often a deep golden transparent color and fruit forward. Qvevri wines can age, once bottled, for many years. Using qvevri is perhaps the best vessel for winemaking that allows a grape to express itself.

Want to learn more about using qvevri in winemaking? The 2014 International Wine Tourism Conference will take place in Tbilisi, Georgia on March 28th and 29th.

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