Tim Pawsey photo

The wraps are off at Okanagan Crush Pad, whose future has now been officially ‘hatched’. Literally.

When Haywire Winery arrived last year, we said:

“One thing we know for sure. Christine Coletta never does anything by half measure.”

No kidding.

Haywire announced then that it would build a winery in time for the 2011 vintage. Now comes the official news (initial rumours of which caused quite the stir over at Cherries & Clay) that the new winery will actually be a custom-crush facility—used for making not only Haywire but also premium, small batch wines for others

Custom crush has been highly successful in wine regions such as New Zealand’s Central Otago and in several parts of California.

That bodes well for OKCP, which is being built by Coletta’s husband and business partner Steve Lornie. With 38 years in the construction biz, Steve knows a thing or two about how and what to build.

You can be sure that OKCP will be state-of-the-art, to say the least. You can get a fun sense of what’s happening so far here:

Okanagan Crush Pad's first personalised fermenter. Check out the big 'O', Tim Pawsey photo

However, what’s really interesting is that the inside will probably look kind of like a kind of giant incubator: Much of OKCP’s small batch lots (whether for Haywire or for clients— Similkameen’s Rhys Pender will do his first crush here) will be made in concrete, egg-shaped fermenters, made by California’s Sonoma Cast Stone.

Egg shaped concrete fermenters have been growing in popularity over the last few years, particularly since being endorsed by luminaries such as Michel Chapoutier and Loire biodynamic guru Nicolas Joly.

The original egg shaped design was popularised by French pioneer Nomblot, who’s been making concrete tanks since 1922. The company used to specialise in mausoleums until one day, at a funeral, a winemaker asked if they could put a valve on a mausoleum …

Sonoma Cast Stone’s fermenters are lighter than the traditional design, and incorporate concealed glycol tubing for temperature control, as well as racking and tasting valves, and a cleaning trap. By using two different types of concrete—traditional for the liner and reinforced ‘Earthcrete’ for the outside—the company gains a significant weight reduction, which allows more volume to weight. Either way, these things don’t exactly travel light—although Coletta had one squeezed down the lane behind her North Vancouver office to show off to media.

As for the egg shape itself, the design interacts with the gasses given off during fermentation to promote a constant, rolling ‘current’, and reduces the need to ‘punch down’ the cap as often as with conventional fermenter designs.

Okanagan Crush Pad consulting winemaker Alberto Antonini, who has worked with concrete around the world, pulls no punches:

“In my experience, concrete is very good if you want to ferment with wild yeast,” says Antonini: it’s a much better environment than stainless steel. When you smell an empty concrete tank you smell life … which is important when making a premium wine.  When you do the same with stainless steel you smell death. To me, the making of premium wine is about life, not death…”

“I’ve been comparing wine fermented in cement to stainless steel and oak. (in the latter)The wine is not as warm or as expressive. … Premium wines aren’t made in hospitals, they’re made in nice facilities, not sterile.”

Granite Roman foot press and basin in The Dão, Portugal, Tim Pawsey photo

—Before the advent of stainless steel and even of large wooden vats and oak barrels, wine was always made in stone. Check out this roman foot press and basin (right), in The Dão, Portugal, that likely dates from 10th century B.C.

Antonini will travel to Canada at least four times a year to offer his advice but the wines will be made by Michael Bartier (ex-Road 13 and Township 7), who recalls the day last year when the decision to go with concrete was made.

Bartier says when they were going over the plans, Antonini asked about ‘those round things’—the fermenters.

“I said they’re made out of stainless steel,” says Bartier.

“He said ‘why?’”

Bartier proclaims the concrete, egg-shaped fermenters represent ‘a completely new concept for Okanagan winemaking.’

“I don’t know how open I would have been to to the idea but for Alberto’s belief. But as soon as he said ‘concrete,’ I was in. It was a very important day in my career.”

It will be interesting to see who else in the Okanagan scrambles to get into these fermenters …

* * *

Haywire, meanwhile, has just released two more wines—and they’re both winners.

• Haywire Pinot Gris Okanagan Valley 2010 Switchback Vineyard

This wine has a lot more structure than its predecessor with some citrus notes on top, followed by a bright, citrus, apple and slightly mineral centre before a crisp, clean finish. Spot prawns, please. $23

• Haywire Gamay Noir Rosé Okanagan Valley 2010

This year definitely made in a drier style, with some forward cherry and red fruit on top, followed by a vibrant cranberry toned palate with keen acidity and a slightly earthy finish. Pretty food friendly too. Think just about whatever you want, from grilled chicken salad to picnic cheeses … $21

Next up (this fall) will be a 2010 Okanagan Valley Pinot Noir, from 37 acre Secrest Mountain Vineyards in Oliver. Also rumoured to be under discussion, though not confirmed, is a Haywire sparkler.

Stay tuned …

Okanagan Crush Pad team, l-r. Michael Bartier, David Scholefield, Christine Coletta, Alberto Antonini, Steve Lornie - Lionel Trudel photo

Full disclosure:

We’re long-time friends with many of these people but we always try to be objective in our reporting. Besides, they have way too many incriminating pictures of us from various occasions over the years…

That said, we’re nothing short of impressed by the direction taken so far—and, yes, it’s just the beginning!

Egg-cellent, you could say…