The ingenuity of winemakers never ceases to amaze me. Case in point: the recently released and impressive, concrete aged Orofino Wild Ferment Syrah 2014 (Similkameen Valley).
Orofino owners John and Virginia Weber are known for their forward thinking ways: when they moved to the Similkameen they built the first straw bale winery in the country, in 2001. (And as far as I know, it’s still the only one of its kind in Canada.)
A Concrete Understanding
Watching the growing (“back to the future”) trend for fermenting and aging in concrete, John decided he’d like to make his own ‘concrete’ wine. But he was reluctant to invest the kind of dollars required for concrete “egg” fermenters currently in vogue. Most modern wines made in concrete are placed in egg-shaped fermenters that come from California, France, or Italy, which are pretty pricey and can be fragile to ship.
Instead Weber decided in another, more practical solution, one which would even add a bit of a local twist. He went just down the road to Osoyoos to see South Okanagan Concrete Products. There he bought a couple of sections of standard, precast concrete, large diameter water pipe sections. A 1.5 inch spigot made by Ripley’s Stainless of Summerland and a concrete base were added.
Weber sourced the grapes from Murray and Maggie Fonteyne’s 6 acre Scout vineyard, about a five minute drive south of the winery—from which Orofino takes much of their fruit.
Notes John: “The 9 year old vines are planted on a dramatic cut bank above the Similkameen River in one of the prettiest and hottest areas in Canada. The 2.2 acres of Syrah thrive in the harsh rocky soil.”
That hot, rocky site is very typical of this unique region.
After being hand-harvested and de-stemmed, the grapes were lightly crushed in one ton open fermenters, hand punched down three times daily. Once fermenting was complete, the wine was placed in the converted concrete pipe tanks for five months. The wine was left unfiltered, racked and bottled.
Orofino Wild Ferment Syrah 2014 (Similkameen Valley)
This is a lovely expression of Syrah, very clean and lineal, with lifted blue and black fruit, some meaty hints, stony notes, lingering pepper and well-integrated, approachable tannins. And it’s untouched by oak, which allows that hallmark Similkameen minerality to show through. A remarkable wine on many levels, well worth tracking down from the winery… Only 90 cases made ($29, 92 points).
I love this wine for so many reasons—firstly, because of the ingenuity at play. Plus I agree with the case Weber makes that the use of locally sourced concrete really does add another, and valid, element of terroir.
“It ain’t pretty, but it’s the same concept—and it’s absolutely local—and more environmentally friendly,” (than an imported tank), he says.
I also like the wine because it’s so unobscured by oak. That’s the other point that can’t be overlooked. Here’s an interesting, red wine of character that’s so drinkable and approachable, just 9 months after harvest.
That has to be a game-changer…
Date Picked: October 8; 2014, Brix 23.7; TA 6.5 g/l; Ph 3.73; Alcohol 14.4%; 90 cases produced
Price at winery: $29
More on Orofino at their website