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Egg fermenters are hatching local wines

Maybe it’s because March is Oscars month, but when I think of the egg-shaped tanks in use at DANCIN Vineyards and Naumes Crush & Fermentation, I can’t help thinking of a great 1947 Claudette Colbert/Fred MacMurray romcom about a young couple who start a chicken farm, "The Egg and I."

I highly recommend it if you like vintage black-and-white movies that seem wise and innocent at the same time. It also features Marjorie Main and Percy Kilbride in their first appearance as Ma and Pa Kettle.

The egg that’s the subject of this column is trending as a style of fermentation vessel, due to its shape and its concrete construction. California vintners began using egg-shaped fermenters of French manufacture around 2003. In 2011 a California company, Sonoma Cast Stone, began production of this type of vessel with six eggs. In 2017 they built 45. If you ordered your egg today it would deliver in 12 weeks, but as harvest draws near, delivery time will increase.

So what’s the advantage of having a giant egg in the color of your choice, apart from its just looking totally cool? Three main things: circulation, flavor neutrality and micro-oxygenation.

Active fermentation that takes place on the surface of grape juice generates heat and sets up convection currents. Exhausted yeast cells, known as lees, drop toward the bottom of the tank on cooling currents but are stirred toward the surface again by the inward curve at the bottom of the tank. Heat retention of the concrete along with the egg shape promote circulation of the fermenting juice. White wines made in this manner, with the lees kept in suspension, have a more substantial mouthfeel and richness. The concrete, more flavor-neutral than wood, is also thought to heighten the minerality of white wines such as sauvignon blanc, viognier and chardonnay. It is also porous, permitting micro-oxygenation which softens tannins.

Dan Marca, co-owner of DANCIN Vineyards with his wife, Cindy, sourced his egg from Nomblot Concrete Wine Tanks of Torcy, located in the Burgundy region of France. Nomblot is credited with the first fabrication of the modern egg-shaped fermenter. DANCIN’s egg arrived in time for the 2016 crush and was used to ferment and age the Dijon Clone 76 Chardonnay. For this wine, Dan explains, “we used the fanciful name, Allonge, a ballet term meaning to elongate, as in the shape of the egg. At our last tasting, this wine was golden in color with delicate aromas of lemon zest and white flowers, a palate-coating creaminess and crisp, bright acidity.”

Allonge will be released to the DANCIN wine club this month. With a very limited production of 72 cases, only 5 to 10 cases of Allonge may be available for purchase in the tasting room.

Naumes winemaker Chris Graves is using a 600-gallon Sonoma Cast egg for the 2017 Naumes Family Vineyards Viognier. After fermentation, he explains, “we leave the wine in the egg to age. With this viognier, I want a good six months of sur lie aging, then we’ll rack it and bottle it in late summer. The egg is used for Naumes Family Vineyards only, but I’m hoping to bring in another one or two, then we can offer it up to custom crush clients.”

You may not be familiar with the Naumes label because it only recently came on the market. Although the family has been in agriculture in the Rogue Valley for generations, the wine venture began in 2012 with planting of the first vineyard blocks, followed in 2015 with the opening of the custom crush winery. Today you can find two 2016 Naumes vintages, pinot noir rosé and chardonnay, on the shelves at Old 99 and Cartwright’s Market in Medford, Jacksonville Inn and Market of Choice in Ashland. Stay tuned for that egg-fermented 2017 Naumes viognier due to hatch later this year.

— What’s your take? Email MJ Daspit at mjdaspitwinot@gmail.com. For more on this topic, check out her Backstory Blog at mjdaspit.com.