Concrete and Stainless Steel – The Past and Future of Wine

Unlike in fashion, trends in technology are rarely cyclical. You’d never see someone earnestly using an old 80’s car phone now that we have tiny, high-powered computers in our pockets. But sometimes, things do come back around. The concrete wine tank is one of those rarities.

While stainless steel wine barrels and vats have been on the rise for decades, constantly being reimagined and improved, a few winemakers have reintroduced concrete and ceramic to their facilities.

Concrete wine tanks were popular in the early 2000’s for a spell, but their roots extend much further back in time to the Neolithic Period. The amphora was an advanced type of container in ancient times. Typically made out of ceramic and available in an array of sizes, amphorae were used to store and transport various products, but mostly wine. There were amphorae specifically designed for marine transport and more decorative, painted amphorae for households and stores to display with pride. The amphora was in regular use through the middle ages.

Amphorae were a technological advancement in their time, they enabled early civilizations to store wine for longer and to travel with or trade wine more effectively. The amphora’s solid structure protected wine from harmful sunlight, the size options made it easier to transport and the seal protected it from oxidization more than preceding options. It wasn’t perfect, but it was the best in it’s time.

Today’s return to concrete echoes a lot of these benefits. While many wineries have adopted stainless steel barrels and tanks for their superior temperature controls, size options and seal, some winemakers want a little more oxygen in their process. Concrete, like ceramic, is porous, though not as porous as oak, enabling a slow ingress of oxygen. Like stainless steel, concrete imparts no flavor onto wine, giving winemakers complete control over their product – whether they choose to leave it pure and unoaked or utilize oak chips or staves to hit those popular oaky notes.

The amphora played a crucial role in the development of civilization because of its impact on trade. It’s good to see an evolution of the ancient innovation still in use today. As oak barrels become less sustainable (both in cost and environmental impact), more and more wineries will feature concrete and stainless steel, past and future, side-by-side.