Unique uses of concrete in the Bay Area: concrete wine vats

The pastoral scene many envision when they think of California wine country may not traditionally include concrete, but for many winemakers concrete is as much a part of their wines as the grape varietals they grow. As unique and unlikely as it is to think of commercial concrete contractors in the Bay Area in the context of winemaking, the increasing prevalence of concrete wine vats used in the fermentation and aging of wines is changing the scene.

Alternative wine vessels

Until the past several years, the most prevalent materials for creating and storing wines have been oak or stainless steel. The former is valued for its ability to allow the wine to naturally oxygenate during fermentation and lend that characteristic “oaky” flavor and mouthfeel, while the latter is prized for its neutral preservation of the flavor of the fruit and its hermetic containment of the wine. Oak barrels and stainless steel vats, however, also have drawbacks. Oak barrels have the potential to impart unintended flavors to the wine or foster bacterial growth if not cleaned properly. Additionally, fewer wine drinkers are opting for “oaky” wines in general. Stainless steel vats, on the other hand, while a thoroughly neutral presence as the wine ferments, ages, and takes on its flavor profile, require a careful oxygenation process and careful temperature control for the wine to properly ferment. As a result, concrete-raised wines, or wines fermented and aged in concrete, is an alternative growing in popularity for both winemakers and wine enthusiasts.

The benefits of concrete

Concrete has long had a presence in the world of winemaking, from the ancient Greek and Roman amphorae that was composed of a nascent form of concrete to today’s impressive winery caves reinforced with shotcrete. The properties of concrete that make it ideal for these purposes also make it a perfect material for vessels used to ferment and age wines. Concrete can be cast in a multitude of forms, including the massive cubes, pyramids, or egg-shaped containers that winemakers use. The interior surface of these concrete wine vats can be smoothed and rounded to encourage the natural circulation of the wine during the fermentation process, requiring less intervention from winemakers. Additionally, that surface is porous, with microscopic air pockets that gradually oxygenate the wine, a process winemakers value for developing a round mouthfeel in the finished product. Further, concrete is known for its thermal properties, and in the context of winemaking, this means concrete-raised wines benefit from consistent, stable temperatures which control yeast growth. One of the most important characteristics of concrete for winemakers, though, is that it creates a genuinely neutral vessel that allows the fruit and its terroir to be the only flavors in the wine.  

Conco is a leading supplier of concrete services for the Western United States.  As one of the leading commercial concrete contractors in the Bay Area, we have been involved with large-scale projects in the area including the new 49ers Stadium.  Our concrete services include commercial, educational, parking and other construction development as well as public works projects and highways.

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