In an economic slump, when housing starts are slow and nobody wants to re-do their driveway, finally put in that pool for the kids, build another tasting room or buy a post-modern, industrial-looking counter top or bathroom sink, what’s a “concrete manufacturer who just happened to be in the heart of the California Wine Country” to do?
Well, you could do what Frank Arciero did: invest in a winery and network of vineyards. But then, you need capital and equity for that… Never mind.
So what does one do to pay for all that cement making equipment?
Make concrete wine tanks, of course!
If a brassiere manfacturer can make a suit for walking on the moon, tile manufacturers can make fermentation vessels. It will sell, too!
After all, Americans suck at science. They believe in angels and accept that burying a manure-filled horn in a corner of a giant vineyard imparts magical qualities to the wine. They allow “communing with the land” to make up for sloppy winemaking and an ignorance of chemistry. And, by way of their unfamiliarity with microbiology, buy into the idea of spoilage species making better wine. They have also accepted the notion that a 16% ABV wine with 1% to 2% RS is a health drink.
Apparently religion is not the only opium of the masses, Karl. Marketing is as potent.
So, in an effort to reinvent themselves – and cash in on the latest craze (because the Moscato wave is going to end, sooner or later, and the Obama administration just extended the mortgage loan mod program) – concrete producers from Petaluma to Paso Robles are churning out eggs, pyramids, cylinders, cones and all sorts of geometric shapes their underutilized engineers draft up – in between trolling Facebook and Russian nudie sites…
The marketing copy for these items tout a number of selling points framed as rediscovered secrets of What the Ancients Knew. But I have some (admittedly, cynical) reservations:
- Cement fermenters allow control of fermentation temperature (because stainless steel tanks with the capacity of a space shuttle main fuel tank don’t come with cooling blankets and immersion chillers don’t exist)
- These fermenters allow control of micro-oxidation (because oak swelled by water and wine breathes like a golden retriever locked in a Fiat on a hot day, nobody has developed microox membranes and fallout shelters are not made of cement…)
- They are flavor-neutral and durable (yeah, I hate stainless steel taint in my wines and it’s really easy to hammer out a dent in reinforced concrete with a ball-peen hammer and silicon caulking will fix any crack from the damned thing being knocked over by a forklift or earthquake)
- Their shape has a “feng shui” that imparts minerality, structure and richness (and refrigerator magnets affixed to the soles of the feet with masking tape reverse transverse myelitis).
I did a little more digging and educamated mineself about these masonry marvels.
It turns out the insides of some of these vats are lined with some sort of epoxy “sealant”. Is it non-porous? If so, how does the wine breathe as one manufacturer’s web site claims? Is it antibacterial? What if your tank is not coated with this sealant and is made with less Portland Cement? Brett loves tiny nooks and crannies as much as it does oak. How do you sanitize that?
Does this sealant keep the uranium in the cement from leeching into the wine? Yes, folks, yoo-RAIN-yum!!!! Don’t get enough alpha particles from the Radon in your basement? Go git yo’ s’ef a bottle of Saxum – (great as a cough syrup and laxative, too)!
Some of the finest (read: “most overpriced”) wines in this sector of the galaxy are fermented in concrete, so by association, if you, as a winemaker, can afford to buy one (more, if you can – the company owner’s daughter wants a Cabriolet for her Kappa Alpha Theta initiation), your wines will be able to put on the illusion of being world-class even if they are a blend of Petit Sirah and Charbono from Shandon.
OK, so I took some comedic liberties there…
But the point of this Nihilistic Contrarianism is to ask: all the feng shui, hokus pokus, and hokum aside, what empirical evidence is there that cement fermentation vessels produce 1) clean and stable wine, 2) safe wine, and, 3) better wine?