Wine Talk

Snooth User: EMark

White Burgundy Question

Posted by EMark, May 5, 2016.

A few days ago I participated in a tasting/pairing event that featured white wines. One of the wines was Chablis, and, while discussing this one, the facilitator stated that it was fermented in steel and had never seen oak.  I asked if that was common for the region and he responded that it was absolutely the case, and was so for all white wines in Burgundy.

I had no reason to question that statement, and I, in fact, enjoyed the wine.

Days later--i.e., last night--the event popped back into my brain.  I have no reason to question the statement other than to wonder what the heck kind of vessel did Burgundy winemakers ferment Chardonnay grapes before steel was invented.  A quick trip to Wikipedia taught me that steel is not nearly as recent invention as I had thought.  It was known in quite ancient times.

So, let me take advantage of the wisdome of the Snooth crowd.  Is it true that White wines from Burgudy never see oak--either in fermentation or in aging? 

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Reply by dmcker, May 5, 2016.

Utter, unmitigated rubbish, not to put too fine a point on it.

Chablis has been a hotbed of oak vs steel controversy for three decades now (notice that's only the tip of the iceberg in historical terms for the region--before that, plenty of oak). Major figures lead the attack from both sides of the divide, trying to make names for themselves. At moment much less oak is being used there than historically.

South into the Cote d'Or? Fuggedaboudit. As much oak used there as anywhere in France, or the world for that matter. They led the way in educating Californians on the use of oak with chardonnay, way back in the '60s~80s. Of course the Californians ended up going a bit overboard, to put it mildly. Hey, if a little is good, a lot must be better, right?

Of course winemakers focus on how much new cooperage vs recycled and work for balance, but take a look at all the something-Montrachet variations or even further south into the Maconnaise and other outlying regions. Plenty of oak, even new, being used. Some winemakers will pitch their use of no new oak, but that tends to be as much for marketing purposes (since it was a buzz concept with somms and the like a decade ago--the somms being a decade behind the winemakers--and is now permeating down towards supermarket level) as for necessary or even advisable winemaking effect.

Personally, I like a little oak in my chards--not CA style, but rather Burg style. I'll even drink from both sides of the Chablis divide, enjoying either.

And as for your 'Facilitator' at that tasting, he's full of something, and it ain't oak. Wine is too popular these days and education too spotty, and so we have tasting room pourers and event 'facilitators' and (sales) 'consultants' and even somms who have trouble telling parts of their anatomy from the proverbial hole in the ground. The need to help bridge that gap was one of the opportunities identified by the founders of Snooth. But that's a whole different can of worms which I am not opening here.

To put things in context, steel was a major military advantage starting from the mists of pre-history. The Hittites conquered the Near East because they had iron when the Egyptians only had bronze. The Celts that stood up to Caesar and his predecessors all had iron and of course the Romans had steel. Not to mention Conan was so successful because of his Cimmerian steel blade....  ;-)

Iron kills bronze and whomever's carrying it. Steel kills iron. Steel wasn't being built in massive smelters in Pittsburgh or KitaKyushu or the Ruhr or any other industrial center as we know them the past couple centuries. It was rare and often secret, proprietary technology. Guarded carefully, doled out sparingly. Toledo made a living off its steel weapons for centuries, both for its Islamic founders and subsequent Christian adopters. Arguably the best steel swords ever made, the Japanese katana, were folded and pounded out by a guild of Shinto priest-qualified swordmakers who only let their apprentices learn a few tricks after decades of working under them. Esoteric depths of knowledge were protected better than present-day classifications far beyond 'Top Secret'. No chance for outsiders to learn, and only the most privileged had access to the best product. They were certainly not using that expertise on steel tanks, and after all this was carbon steel since chromiumed steel, even if it had been invented, does not keep nearly as good an edge.

Doubt any winemakers back then were using any kind of steel tanks. Even if they were an available option, which they weren't, why should they when they had perfectly good oak barrels that were much more cheap and locally prevalent and even tasted better in the final product?

Reply by EMark, May 5, 2016.

Makes much more sense, DM, and is consistent with my experience.  I've always thought that reason that I enjoyed White Burgundy was because of the deft use of oak.  I seemed to be able to find oak, but, as you say, it is not the "if a little is good, then a lot is better" approach that is much too common in domestic examples.

Reply by GregT, May 6, 2016.

What D said.

Stainless steel wasn't even available until the 1960s. Chateau Haut Brion was one of the first wineries in the world to use stainless steel tanks, and that was in the early 1960s.

So Chablis was not "traditionally" fermented in stainless steel at all. Maybe in old oak barrels, which don't impart a lot of oak flavor, but not stainless steel. Unless "tradition" is only like forty or fifty years.


Reply by JonDerry, May 6, 2016.

Good info on steel and the like. Of course I wasn't going to leave this thread unchecked after reading the title. 

Mark, some interesting (meaning really good) white burgundy producers and their best value wines I've come across:

2008, 2010, 2011 2013, 2014, Domaine Hubert Lamy St. Aubin En Remilly

2011, 2013, 2014 Benjamin Leroux Auxey Duresses

Reply by dmcker, May 6, 2016.
"Stainless steel wasn't even available until the 1960s"

Good point in general, but it was available in industrial applications quite a bit earlier. Stainless steel did spread universally across most consumer segments by the '60s. Wonder if the Krupps helped out their favorite Rhein or Mosel winemaker with some custom tanks before WWII.

Some notes on stainless steel's history from Wikipedia are given below. Not surprising to see that stainless steel silverware was one of its first applications.

Can't help but wonder if anyone in Chablis every played around with cement or ceramic...





An announcement, as it appeared in the 1915 New York Times, of the development of stainless steel[22]

The corrosion resistance of iron-chromium alloys was first recognized in 1821 by French metallurgist Pierre Berthier, who noted their resistance against attack by some acids and suggested their use in cutlery. Metallurgists of the 19th century were unable to produce the combination of low carbon and high chromium found in most modern stainless steels, and the high-chromium alloys they could produce were too brittle to be practical.

In 1872, the Englishmen Clark and Woods patented an alloy that would today be considered a stainless steel.[23]

In the late 1890s Hans Goldschmidt of Germany developed an aluminothermic (thermite) process for producing carbon-free chromium. Between 1904 and 1911 several researchers, particularly Leon Guillet of France, prepared alloys that would today be considered stainless steel.[24]

Friedrich Krupp Germaniawerft built the 366-ton sailing yacht Germania featuring a chrome-nickel steel hull in Germany in 1908.[25] In 1911, Philip Monnartz reported on the relationship between chromium content and corrosion resistance. On 17 October 1912, Krupp engineers Benno Strauss and Eduard Maurer patented austenitic stainless steel as Nirosta.[26][27][28]

Similar developments were taking place contemporaneously in the United States, where Christian Dantsizen and Frederick Becket were industrializing ferritic stainless steel. In 1912, Elwood Haynes applied for a US patent on a martensitic stainless steel alloy, which was not granted until 1919.[29]

Also in 1912, Harry Brearley of the Brown-Firth research laboratory in Sheffield, England, while seeking a corrosion-resistant alloy for gun barrels, discovered and subsequently industrialized a martensitic stainless steel alloy. The discovery was announced two years later in a January 1915 newspaper article in The New York Times.[22] The metal was later marketed under the "Staybrite" brand by Firth Vickers in England and was used for the new entrance canopy for the Savoy Hotel in London in 1929.[30] Brearley applied for a US patent during 1915 only to find that Haynes had already registered a patent. Brearley and Haynes pooled their funding and with a group of investors formed the American Stainless Steel Corporation, with headquarters in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.[31]

In the beginning stainless steel was sold in the US under different brand names like "Allegheny metal" and "Nirosta steel". Even within the metallurgy industry the eventual name remained unsettled; in 1921 one trade journal was calling it "unstainable steel".[32] In 1929, before the Great Depression hit, over 25,000 tons of stainless steel were manufactured and sold in the US.[33]

Reply by JonDerry, May 6, 2016.

It is interesting how effective a vessel cement is. I heard an interview with Alexander Thienpot of Vieux Chateau Certan in Bordeaux, where he said cement is the best for fermentations, but we don't use it. Struck me as very interesting. Maybe it's an aesthetic/labor motivated decision.

Reply by rckr1951, May 11, 2016.

Your last line is paramount.  Though there is no data that I could dig out of my files nor on line one thing is for sure.

With the advent of modern technology and changes in wine styles and tastes - I couldn't find anybody that uses oak from start to finish.  Of course right after I did that - I found this just to show:

Domaine Laroche - Chablis 1er Cru Les Vaillons Vieilles Vignes 2010 -  The grapes were pressed in a stainless steel pneumatic press and settled for 12 hours. Fermentation took place over three weeks at 17°C. 15% of the wine was fermented and aged in French oak barrels (fermenting the wine in oak gives better integration of the wood flavours) and the remainder was vinified in stainless steel. All the wine underwent malolactic fermentation. Nine months ageing was followed by a light bentonite fining and minimal filtration to preserve the natural body and fruit of the wine.  

Chateau Beaulieu -  Vinification and wine maturation

Each year the production at Beaulieu reaches approximately 12 000 hectolitres of wine. The wine is classified into differents categories; wines with the A.O.C. appellation (a guarantee of origin) A.O.C. Coteaux d’Aix-en-Provence (85 %) and Vins de Pays or varietal wines (a wine that uses the name of the dominant grape from which it’s made).

All our grape varietals are vinified separately in stainless steel tanks at a controlled temperature.

Once the grapes for white and rosé wines have been stripped and pressed using a pneumatic press, the juice is immediately cooled down to a temperature of approximately 12 °C, and the must is left to settle in temperature-regulated tanks. The resulting must is then fermented between 16 °C and 18 °C.

The much riper red grape, once stripped, is also put directly into stainless steel vinification tanks and regulated at an approximate temperature of 25 °C according to traditional methods. The wine is then racked and reintroduced into the tank from the top to allow for the extraction of polyphenols and anthocyanin during maceration, which can take from 6 to 25 days for vintages that need to age. The wines are then blended during winter.

The best juices from each grape are fermented in oak barrels remaining in their lees for a period of 12 months. A crushing every 10 days serves to refine the wine from any fatty substances or particles left over from wine maturation.

All bottling is carried out on the Chateau grounds using the finest equipmen.

As for concrete cement - it has been used for decades in Europe and is making a resurgence in the West Coast.                     

Happy sipping - Paul

Reply by GregT, May 11, 2016.

It's true that stainless steel existed, but the term then and still now referred to various compositions and alloys.  But at least insofar as I know, the use in fermentation and wine making started maybe in the 1950s but for serious wine in Bordeaux in 1961, after which it was quickly taken up by other French producers. I don't know that history for certain though.

It was championed by Emile Peynaud and by Americans, but for different reasons. The Americans pointed out that it was easy to keep clean and free of bacteria. Peynaud and others wanted something non-porous in which the temperature could be regulated - usually to keep cool, but not always.

As a gross generalization, higher temps give you more extraction; lower temps keep more aromatics and fruit. So some wine makers start warm to do the extraction before there's a lot of alcohol and then drop the temp to finish the fermentation. You can't do that unless you can regulate the temp.

Cement is interesting - if it's glass-lined, it's non-porous. If it is not glass-lined, like the ancient amphorae, it is porous and allows some oxidation. Stone has of course been used for many centuries. In the old days they'd bury the vessel to keep it cool. Stainless steel with a refrigerated jacket enabled an entirely new style of wine to be created.

What's that style?

Uh, "natural" "unmanipulated" wine with "minerals".


Reply by vin0vin0, May 11, 2016.

Was always curious about concrete fermentation and how winemakers kept their concrete vessels clean enough to prevent "bad things" from getting into subsequent vintages. Any insights?

Reply by GregT, May 12, 2016.

Some don't, which can be a problem. Some use high-pressure steam or hot water, some use trisodium phosphate, etc. There are differing opinions on what's best. It's like barrels and wood vats - different takes depending on who you talk to. But you want to keep them clean.

Reply by rckr1951, May 12, 2016.

Just another note on cement (I'm glad we've had this conversation, though it turned sideways from the original subject. - This was a pretty good article:

Also in it was this this: Care and maintenance :  It is well known that the alkaline character of untreated concrete— derived from lots of calcium—can interact badly with wine acidity, raising pH and creating odd flavors. Concrete tanks thus need to be “cured” before use—most winemakers say before each use—by rinsing surfaces with a strong solution of tartaric acid to neutralize the surface. Care must also be taken in cleaning concrete; it can handle scrubbing and cleaning agents better than barrel wood, but not hot water or steam, which will lead to cracks, particularly around valves, doors and other fittings.


Reply by Richard Foxall, May 16, 2016.

Thanks for that Rckr.  Mauro MAscarello of Giuseppe Mascarello i Figli m akes his Barolo in glass lined concrete tanks.  That would solve quite a few of the problems, but the glass is presumably fiberglass with its own set of issues. 

Reply by rckr1951, May 16, 2016.

Richard - I've heard of the fiberglass coated cement vats and have wondered about the cleaning of them also.  Also how it's applied is a query of mine - brushed or sprayed?  Air bubbles are notorious in fiberglass - I worked with it in shipyards on the west coast.

Reply by dmcker, May 16, 2016.

"some use trisodium phosphate"

How comforting. Seem to remember demonstrating against its use a couple of times back in the late '60s & early '70s, though we were much more enthused about battling DDT at that time. Rachel Carson's 'Silent Spring' was what first got me pointed in that direction (seemed apocalyptic to a jr. high school student), but then I spent the '70 to '71 academic year studying with Karl Sax, who though at the end of his life was still brilliant and was particularly focused towards conservation and environmental issues, starting with the pressures of over-population and leading into genetic issues with various types of pollution. He was able to motivate me and a number of others by giving us a great holistic overview followed by focus on prioritizing the issues of most immediacy.


From that source of all info off Mt. Sinai, otherwise known as Wikipedia:

"In combination with surfactants, TSP is an excellent agent for cleaning everything from laundry to concrete driveways. This versatility and low manufacturing price made TSP the basis for a plethora of cleaning products sold in the mid-20th century. TSP is still sold and used as a cleaning agent but since the late 1960s its use has diminished in the United States and many other parts of the world because, like many phosphate-based cleaners, it is known to cause extensive eutrophication of lakes and rivers once it enters a water system.[8] Substitutes are generally not as effective.[9]

"TSP is commonly used after cleaning a surface with mineral spirits in order to remove hydrocarbon residues and may be used with household chlorine bleach in the same solution without hazardous reactions.[citation needed] This mixture is particularly effective for removing mildew, but is less effective at removing mold.[citation needed]

"Although it is still the active ingredient in some toilet bowl cleaning tablets, TSP is generally not recommended for cleaning bathrooms because it can stain metal fixtures and can damage grout.[10]"


For those not up on their ecosystem terminology, here's a definition for that keyword in the first paragraph of the quote above. Of course this definition is also off the tablets from the mountain, otherwise known as Wikipedia:

"Eutrophication (Greek: eutrophia (from eu "well" + trephein "nourish".); German: Eutrophie) or more precisely hypertrophication, is the ecosystem's response to the addition of artificial or natural nutrients, mainly phosphates, through detergents, fertilizers, or sewage, to an aquatic system.[1] One example is the "bloom" or great increase of phytoplankton in a water body as a response to increased levels of nutrients. Negative environmental effects include hypoxia, the depletion of oxygen in the water, which may cause death to aquatic animals."


Here's the Potomoc with a little of that going on:


And here's a canal that's also in its autumn-heading-towards-winter, just as the leaves above it, for the same reason:

Reply by dmcker, May 16, 2016.

Surprised nobody's mentioned him so far so I'll throw Gravner into the discussion. He as much as anyone put clay pots/terracotta vessels/amphorae/qvevri/giare/whatever-you-want-to-call-them on the winemaking map, starting decades ago. He uses giare from Georgia, which he lines with beeswax. His whites from them that I've had are almost as tannic as reds. His use spurred other copycats.

Tangentially, Georgians want to position themselves as the origin of winemaking, and in this instance of amphorae as well. But I'll leave that alone for now--if there's interest we can deal with that subject in another thread.

Cornelissen down on Mt. Aetna in Sicily also uses the giare. Likely they're another factor in why his wines are so utterly unique.



"Josko Gravner, one the foremost innovators in the use of terracotta vessels for grape fermentation, is an esteemed and innovative Friulian winemaker whose vineyards lie in the Friuli-Venezia Giulia region of northeastern Italy straddling the Italian/Slovenian border. From 2001 onwards, he has used huge, bees' wax-lined giare (amphorae - singular "giara") made in Georgia and buried in the ground. The resulting white wines drink more like reds: deeply flavourful, dark in colour and tannic. His three wines are Ribolla, Breg and Rosso Gravner (all IGT Venezia Giulia). The Breg white wine is a blend of Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling Italico, Chardonnay and Pinot Grigio. The Ribolla wine comes from the autochthonous Ribolla Gialla varietal. Rosso Gravner is a blend of merlot and cabernet sauvignon. The reviews are mixed - some rate his whites as the best in Italy."



Then there's the Beckham Estate Vineyard amphorae project in Chehalem, Oregon. Andrew Beckham was a high school ceramics teacher who developed some cool 75 gallon clay amphorae that he was thinking about selling at $2500~$3500 a throw:

But once he got them pretty much perfected, and even though he had orders from wineries in Oregon, WA and CA, he apparently came to the conclusion that he really wanted to put them to use himself. So he became a winemaker, too, since he had so much time on his hands after teaching at HS full time, producing ceramic artwork and putting on shows, and developing new clay vessels. Nice story about his energy and efforts here.


Reply by duncan 906, May 17, 2016.

The facilitator at Emark's tasting has obviously not had the pleasure of Domaine Guerrin et fils Pouilly-Fuisse Vieilles Vignes 2014 which is vinified and aged in oak barrels.I had a bottle last night with my fish supper. It is a lovely chardonnay;plenty of melon and peach style fruit and a suggestion of vanilla and butter

Reply by Richard Foxall, May 17, 2016.

I won't drag my father, a ceramic engineer, into the discussion too much--he has also worked with large-volume wineries and others--because we are going pretty far afield here.  I will say that the judicious use of TSP is in my toolkit.  The phosphate eutrophication issue is one I remember well, but the huge source of phosphate discharge back then was in regular old detergents.  Virtually all clothing was washed in phosphate-based detergents.  Up until recently, many manufacturers of laundry soap continued to label their cleaners as "phosphate free," which was silly because by then ALL of them were phosphate free, at least in the US and W. Europe.  And they all work really well without phosphates.  A victory for the environmental movement.  Sources of eutrophication now are fertilizers and a key culprit in the west is golf courses.  If you want to keep Tahoe blue, stop golfing up there. 

Rckr, when did you work in shipyards on the West Coast?  My father moved us here because he worked for a company that sold industrial rust inhibiting coatings and one of their big customers at the time was shipbuilders.  The industry moved, first to Japan, then to Korea and now who knows?  His employee and good friend moved to Nagasaki in 1970 to follow the business.  Unless of course you worked on smaller boats or in drydocks repairing boats, the business went overseas that long ago. 

Okay, while I was typing I talked to my father and it turns out that his employer also made "glass lined" concrete tanks.  (In Ardmore, OK--we talked last weekend about a trip he took there, coincidentally.) He confirms it is blown-on fiberglass.  The process is well-established (he hasn't been in the business for 46 years, but he had contacts for many more, and it was well-established then).  Bubbles aren't a big issue because of the process, which I won't go into here.  However, that micro-oxygenation that is a supposed benefit?  The glass lining puts an end to that.  We also talked beer cans and Kohler bathtubs and he recommended a trip to Kohler, WI, something Emark has also spoken of elsewhere. 

More  on concrete fermenters. More on Kohler and their wine list.

Reply by dmcker, May 17, 2016.

"The phosphate eutrophication issue is one I remember well, but the huge source of phosphate discharge back then was in regular old detergents."

My understanding was that TSP was *in* a lot of those detergents back in the day. Gone from them now, but still apparently in use in industrial applications for even the wine industry, as Greg lets us know. And eutrophication is not some phenomenon of the past. I've seen it in several dozen locations over the past decade, and I wasn't hunting it out--hell, I've even been going out of my way to avoid industrial areas since I no longer need to visit them for professional purposes. Most recent viewing was a month ago in the moat surrounding the Imperial Palace in Tokyo. Even red tides which you've likely seen to this day on the West Coast, Fox, are likely influenced by discharge effluents, though if you want some entertainment get three marine biologists together, feed them plenty of wine, then ask them to explain the causes of red tides.

I'm also curious about TSP's efficacy, because of the comments towards the end of my wikipedia quote above about how it doesn't work well against many molds, and also tends to stain metals--one imagines even stainless.

Reply by Richard Foxall, May 17, 2016.

A lot of it was sodium tripolyphosphate, according to this rather complete discussion. It's another form of phosphate builder in laundry soaps.  Has its own Wiki.

So there's also natural buildup, still chokes rivers, but comes from the breakdown of plants that have lots of nitrogen.  And, of course, those fertilizers, which are now the #1 source of the problem. 

TSP is good for killing cockroaches--if they walk through it, it scrapes their carapacxes and dehydrates them when it gets in the cracks.  But boric acid works really well, too.  Dust the areas they come in and out of and there you go. 

There were actual glass lined concrete tanks in France over a hundred years ago.  They put in panes of glass and cemented them together.  See what a little research can lead to?

Reply by rckr1951, May 17, 2016.

RICHARD - I SPENT, INCLUDING U.S. NAVY TIME, 20/21 (72-93) YEARS IN SHIPYARDS FROM SAN DIEGO TO OAKLAND AND BREMERTON .  Did a short stint in Pascagoula also.  I shot missiles - both Types in the Navy and built tactical warfare and data systems for the Navy with a Military Contractor.  Repaired radars,  weapons systems and all types of other gadgets.

Did a bunch of traveling, both during and after my time in the Navy.  Japan, Australia, South America-Chile mostly, Europe - Italy, Spain, France, Portugal and England - those are where I learned about wines. Those places were much different as a civilian.  But that's another story.



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