Preserving Wine in Clay – Is the Past Now the Future?

We’ve come a long way in the last 8,000 years.

That goes especially for the winemaking industry. Way back when, Italian wine was barely a concept. There certainly wasn’t an industry around the whole thing. The few people who made wine did so in very small batches and usually for personal use.

As time went on and cities began to spring up, wine emerged as a full-blown industry.

Of course, today it’s gone global. Most European countries have industries of their own, with Italy leading the way in terms of sales and recognition.

But let us take you back to the past again. Superficially, we want to focus on the area of production, preservation, and fermentation.

Today, we have all sorts of modern devices that help us to create truly amazing wines. But if we head back to the Roman era, we had amphora.

This little clay jars were essential to the wine industry of the time. Without them, producers would have no way of fermenting their wines and creating the drinks that so many love.

Why do we bring this up?

Well, it seems like the amphora is making a comeback. Some wine producers have started using them again to produce wine.

This article takes a closer look at the whole thing to determine whether using clay is just a passing fad.

How is Used to Work

As mentioned, we have massive vats, barrels, and other production techniques for fermenting wine in this day and age.

But in ancient times, none of that was available on an industrial level. Instead, winemakers use amphora.

An amphora is essentially little more than a clay jar. The Romans and the Ancient Greeks used them for both fermenting and storing their wines.

When it comes to fermenting, the winemaker would pour the wine into the jug and then bury it underground. This kept it away from the sun while the wine did its thing. After a certain amount of time, the amphora got dug back up with a fermented wine inside it.

Winemakers would then ship the wine, often in the same clay jar, to wherever it needed to go.

At the time, it was one of the best preservation methods available. Glass bottles hadn’t become the norm and we all know what happens to wine when it’s exposed to air. Clay amphora was a solution to a problem before science came along and changed the entire industry.

It’s this method that’s coming back to prominence in 2019. In fact, several producers adopted it a few years ago and have started making wines that shun modern production methods.

The question’s simple – why?

Why go back on several centuries of production and preservation evolutions to make wines the old fashioned way.

As it turns out, proponents of the technique believe there are several benefits to storing wine in clay jars.

Benefit #1 – Natural Preservation

Those who’ve kept track of the rise of organic and biodynamic wine know that there’s a trend towards naturalism in wine production right now. In particular, many drinkers and producers have grown wary of sulphite, which has been used to preserve wine for decades.

Those who make wine using clay jars and amphora seem to follow this trend. The idea is that clay is a completely natural material that preserves wine naturally without the need of any chemical intervention. Clay’s porous nature allows the wine to breathe and ferment naturally. However, it also protects the wine from oxidation.

It takes a certain amount of dedication to create wine this way. It’s a labour-intensive operation that requires more frequent checking and manipulation of the wine. But some producers highlight the fact that they’re making wine in a completely natural way as a key benefit of using clay.

Benefit #2 – A Fresher Taste

Some producers also suggest that making wine in clay amphora leads to a fresher wine.

This aspect of the method is certainly up for debate. Some would argue that it’s the producer’s ability and craft that has a greater influence here. Others may say that freshness is all about the quality of the grape

And we’re sure that there are plenty who believe that it’s impossible for a clay wine to be fresher than one made using modern methods.

The thinking here again seems to stem from the natural aspect of the clay. It’s possible that clay imparts minerals into the wine stored within it. This might alter the taste to create earthier tones. And it could create a more refreshing wine.

In theory.

In practice, it’s hard to really judge this one. Without extensive study and taste testing, this is a more anecdotal benefit than a proven one. Still, it’s a benefit that proponents of this method will hold up.

Benefit #3 – The Cultural Aspect

We all know that winemakers have a great respect for the traditions on which the industry is built on.

And we’re all curious about what ancient wines must have tasted like compared to the wines that we produce today.

The modern use of clay jars may be the closest that we ever get to actually tasting the wines that our ancestors enjoyed thousands of years ago.

Of course, it’s impossible to perfectly simulate ancient wines. After all, it’s not just production techniques that have changed over the millennia. The very way that we grow grapes has changed to the point where they’re completely different now than they were in the past.

Still, there’s an argument to be made that using clay jars is a way of paying homage to an era that influenced today’s wine industry in a massive way.

Fad or Forever?

Is making wine in clay jars here to say.

We believe that it is…with a caveat.

It’s unlikely that this production technique will go mainstream. It’s too labour-intensive and the industry’s too large to sustain this older method of production.

However, we do believe there’s a market for this type of wine. Look for a small collection of Italian wine producers to promote this technique in the future.

And keep an eye on xtraWine as we may just end up stocking a clay-made wine sooner or later.