Historically winemaking vessels in Australia for ferment and aging consisted of a choice between stainless steel and oak, with the occaisional concrete tank. With the emergence of a new breed of winemaker comes a questioning as to how things have always been done.

For many this has resulted in looking back into the history of winemaking, taking techniques from the old world of wine into the new world. Three of our wineries have embraced these techniques for sometime now, making wines in clay amphoras. Whilst we have seen lots of pictures of clay amphoras on Instagram there is still little known by many as to why winemakers are using these old world techniques and what they like about them. So we thought we would ask Brad, Ray and Matt, here is what they said.

BH Amphora capture

Brad Hickey of BRASH HIGGINS

What kind of vessels do you use?
We use clay amphora made by a local potter lined with beeswax from our neighbour’s beehives.

What wines do you produce using these vessels?
NDV Nero d’Avola, ZIB Zibibbo and MRLO Merlot

Why do you use these and what characters do you like about them?
I like the result of using organic material, some of which is from the same clay soil as our vineyard, to age and ferment wine in. You can get your hands in the amphora during fermentation and squeeze the berries with your fingers. That’s pretty intimate and gentle way of winemaking. Clay amphora have a warmth and vibrancy that you don’t get from oak or concrete, and they are inert so helps retain the transparency of the wine. We allow the Nero and Zibibbo to remain on skins for six months. Both wines volunteer a flor or layer of living yeast to protect them. We began the amphora project with our potter in 2010; he now has a new and steady revenue stream, always nice to support a local artisan.

Between Five Bells Amphora capture

Ray Nadeson of BETWEEN FIVE BELLS

What kind of vessels do you use?
800lt Tuscan made Amphora from Artenova

What wines do you produce using these vessels?
B5B Amber, although quite a few components of B5B Red & White get a little amphora action.

Why do you use these and what characters do you like about them?
The amphora helps maintain a fairly low, consistent ferment temperature, this is essential in the gentle extraction of phenolics in white wines. We also love the textural component the amphora brings to the wines. An interesting thing about the amphora is the height of them, over time the cap floats to the top and the seeds drop to the bottom minimising the seed tannin extraction. We also regulate the thickness of the wax which in turn regulates the oxygen ingress rate, therefore regulating the rate of polymerisation. These amphora are hand made by a small number of artisans in the Tuscan hills, they take approximately 2 weeks to make and for every three that make it to the kiln one is broken in the process.

SPW Amphora capture

Matt Bowness of SIDE PROJECT WINES

What kind of vessels do you use?
Amphora, hand made in Tuscany, Italy.

What wines do you produce using these vessels?
Side Project Vermentino and Side Project Saperavi.

Why do you use these and what characters do you like about them?
In a word… STRUCTURE. Our Side Project wines explore traditional winemaking techniques with a focus on consumption with food. With the Vermentino I find that the inherent minerality of the variety lends itself to building texture and phenolic structure. This can be achieved through skin contact fermentation and brief maturation on skins, in an oxidative environment that the clay Amphora allows. Also the slight funk aromatics builds interest and compliments cuisine that uses bold cheeses or fungi, like pasta or truffle dishes.
Our Saperavi is in unchartered waters here in WA, being the first producer of this variety from Western Australia. I’ve taken to respecting the traditional nature of one of the world’s oldest grape varieties. By naturally fermenting in clay pot, and allowing the wine months of skin contact without the influence of oak, allows the tight acidty and relatively lean tannin profile of the wine, build in structure and balance. The cherry cola flavours are exciting, and we want to let the variety show us what it us, rather than manipulate with external influences of yeast, oak, additives.

If you would like to taste some of these wines or learn more please get in touch.

Cheers, the team at G&G.