The tanks stand rank and file in an architecturally simple space and make an astoundingly good figure. Their well-rounded bodies taper towards the top and bulge downwards towards the opening. Their skin is by no means rough, but fine-pored and smooth. This is a new generation of wine tanks that has nothing in common with the chunky shape of their bulky predecessors.
“There is no more efficient way to work than with these tanks,” comments the vintner on the impressive showpieces in the Hofstätter Winery. “In the very first year we were able to completely abstain from electric cooling. Concrete absorbs the warmth produced during fermentation and transports it to the outside. Physical punch-down of the pomace is also reduced to a minimum. The conical form of the tanks causes the cap of grape skins and other solids that float on the top of the liquid to collapse. In this way tannin and pigment are released ideally in a natural way into the fermenting must.
The winery was the first not only in Alto Adige, but in entire Italy to fully equip a large cellar with these innovative concrete tanks. This bold decision was rewarded in the first vintage of red wines – and a few whites - fermented in them.
Concrete is by no means a novel material in wine tank construction. It has proven itself over decades and is used in many wine regions all over the world. The large, angular, thick-walled containers are however usually built into walls – a construction that does not take advantage of the simple material’s greatest attribute: it’s ability to gently regulate temperature.
Thanks to new techniques, it is now possible to cast round, slender concrete tanks. They are freestanding and their large exposed surface can transport excess warmth.
During the fermentation process sugar is converted to alcohol and the temperature can rise to over 32° Celsius (90° F). Great temperature fluctuations can be detrimental. The sluggish material concrete functions as a temperature regulator. It responds much differently than the temperature reactive stainless steel that became so popular in Italy in the 1970’s. In addition to this, rock does not become electrostatically charged and transfer this to wine like metal does. This allows solid materials to collect undisturbed at the bottom of the tank and the wine clarifies naturally through sedimentation. In concrete, wine is allowed to mature harmoniously and its aromatic intensity remains well preserved.
The functional tanks are coated in the inside with a 2 mm protective layer with a water base. Like concrete it is inert, neutral in taste, porous and allows the wine to breathe.
Computer controlled temperature probes and cooling valves provide temperature regulation if necessary.
Contrary to the usual large concrete vats, the significantly lower volume capacities of the freestanding tanks facilitate the fermentation of small charges of grapes. Their purchase serves the vinification and maturation of single vineyard wines, as is customary at the Hofstätter Winery. The attributes of the rock mass have a positive influence on wine quality. Last, but not least, they save electricity and make an energy efficient and ecological production possible.
As stainless steel became fashionable, concrete appeared passé. Now the tried and true material is experiencing a renaissance, but in a more aesthetic and functional form than ever before.