Friday, June 10, 2016

Interview with Artenova and the Use of Terracota Amphora in Winemaking

This Italian wine blog is all about educating others, while also educating myself.  As I mentioned before I highly encourage comments as I love to hear from my readers and I love emails as well.  This blog was inspired by one of my readers whom was asking me about glass bungs, but it also got me thinking about amphora and I thought it'd be a perfect way to talk about amphora and winemaking and tie in glass bungs as well.   

The use of Terracotta
Terracotta was used in ancient times for storing and transporting wine throughout Italy.  I've seen many terracotta artifacts from visiting the ancient ruins of Pompeii in the past as well as many other places including the Etruscan museum in Fiesole.  Let's admit it, ruins are everywhere in Italy and is part of what makes it so fascinating and unique.

But terracotta isn't only a thing of the past as you'll see many wineries still using it in Italy today as well as the rest of the world. There is such a focus on sustainability and biodynamic winemaking that producers are looking to make wine as natural as possible and using the pure clay in terracotta amphorae provides a perfect option for wine fermentation and storage.

terracota amphora used in winemaking
Wine jars of Artenova

What makes the terracotta of Impruneta so special?

Impruneta is located in Tuscany within the province of Florence, just a short jaunt outside the center of Florence on your way to the chianti classico wine country.  La Terracotta e Il Vino Artenova is the only production facilities within Italy making terracota amphora for winemaking. If there was a place to make such a product I believe Italy is the perfect place to start.

The clay of Impruneta is known for it's durability and the clay wine vessels are all made by hand. The clay is added layer by layer and compressed down using a process known as a colombino. It must be dried in stages so it takes awhile to make these pots depending upon the size. When everything is dried it goes inside the kiln at about a thousand degrees and this process is what gives it the beautiful orange pinkish color. This sort of craftsmenship is what I respect about Italy and the Italians themselves.

I virtually interviewed owner, Leonardo Parisi, of Artenova Terracota production facility of amphora located in Impruneta, Tuscany.
Leonardo Parisi owner of Artenova Terracota
Leonardo Parisi, owner of Artenova
1) What's the difference between using terracotta for wine storage in comparison to oak barrels and stainless steel?

Wine kept in terracotta undergoes a degree of oxygenation that cannot be obtained with stainless steel. Wood has an excellent capacity for oxygenation however we also have transference of tannins and aromas from the wood to the wine whereas terracotta is completely neutral, therefore, you get a higher expression of the flavors and perfumes from the grapes themselves.

2) How popular is terracotta in winemaking within Italy compared to other storage methods? 

The use of terracotta for winemaking in Italy is much less practiced compared to wood or steel but the interest of the ever growing number of bio-dynamic wine producers towards natural materials and lower (or zero) doses of chemicals for preservation is consequently increasing the demand for terracotta wine jars. Artenova has over 80 client companies in Italy who make wine in terracotta plus many foreign companies too.

3) What makes the terracotta production of Impruneta different than other areas within Italy?

It is the particular type of clay found only in this area, which makes the terracotta of Impruneta different from any other type of earthenware produced in Italy. It has unique physical characteristics making it extraordinary for its imperviousness and breathability. It is a material that provides excellent thermal insulation, protecting the wine from excessive temperature changes during storage. Furthermore, its porosity allows a good passage of oxygen enabling optimal maturation, particularly important for red wines. Impruneta clay has been well known since ancient times for its characteristics of resistance and durability (Brunelleschi used it for the roof tiles of the Duomo of Florence) and for its unique rose-pink color, a great enhancement for any wine cellar! It is a unique and unalterable type of clay.
Artenova in Impruneta making terracota amphora
The workshop of Artenova in Impruneta (Tuscany, Italy)

Incidentally, always attentive to innovation and willing to experiment new ideas, Artenova has recently begun a collaboration with the University of Florence to investigate the structure of Impruneta clay and its reactions with wine on a scientific level. To this end the Department of Chemistry of the University of Florence will carry out a study, the first of its kind, of the physical-chemical and sensorial parameters of wine during its processes of fermentation and maturation inside terracotta jars. The initial results will probably be presented on the 19th – 20th of November 2016 in occasion of the second edition of the International Convention "Terracotta and Wine" which, like the first edition, will be held in Impruneta (Tuscany) in the magnificent 18th Century terracotta workshop “Fornace Agresti”.

4) On average how long does it take to produce an amphora?

It takes about two weeks to mold a terracotta wine-jar, after which, a further 30 days are necessary for drying. If you wish to “speed” things up a little, the jar can be placed in a special drying room, called a "Seccatoio". In general it takes between a maximum of 90 to a minimum of 60 days before the jar is ready. In some cases, weather permitting, you can reduce this to 45 days. “Patience” is the production philosophy of Artenova!

Amphora production for winemaking
Craftsmen working in the Artenova's workshop

5) How are the amphora typically sealed and what's the benefit of the glass bung?

The jars are fitted with a special stainless steel lid complete with seal, a necessary piece of modern technology to prevent the passage of air. The glass “bung” is an airlock and its sole purpose is to allow the wine maker to monitor the level of the wine without opening the lid, again to prevent air getting in. Even if a small quantity of air gets into the wine, the whole lot is ruined.

All pictures copyright of Sergio Bettini.
Source: La Terracotta e Il Vino Artenova


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