Egg-Shaped Wine Tanks Whet Appetite

Ovoid wood and plastic fermentors intrigue winemakers at Milan trade show

by Clark Smith
This wooden egg fermentor, made by a French firm, triggered some buzz at the recent SIMEI trade show in Milan.
Milan, Italy—As iconic and seductively curved as the Gateway Arch in St. Louis, Mo., the egg-shaped wooden fermentor displayed by Bordeaux-based master artisan Joseph François may be the image many visitors will retain of SIMEI 2011. Inundated with interest in his work, Foudrerie Francois directeur general Laurent Lacroix struggled to find time to respond to questions concerning the enological benefits of this unconventional design.

“The Biodynamic producers who like this shape are interested in the natural vortex it allows the wine to create. It has no corners to baffle and disturb motion. In theory, Brownian motion will naturally be directed by coreolis forces to establish a natural vortex in such a tank, constantly refreshing lees contact and thus protecting and enriching the wine,” he said. “We have not verified these claims, but for sure, the tourists love the look.”

Foudrerie Francois is part of the Francois Freres Groupe, and Lacroix is also the manager of Brive Tonneliers.

The craftsmanship and aesthetic appeal is undeniable, and even the 27,000-euro price tag seems cheap compared to concrete eggs one- fifth the size now selling for 4,000 euros.
The plastic Apollo tank by FlexTank is oxygen permeable.
Daffy as its appearance is, the 230-gallon Apollo polymer egg manufactured by FlexTank, Athens, Ga., is surprisingly practical. Permeable to oxygen at a rate of 1.7 mg/L/month, FlexTank’s products have similar micro-oxygenation rates to barrels without evaporative loss or contamination, and are designed to serve as a vehicle for chips, cubes and other oak alternatives.

FlexTanks have already gained 1,200 winery customers in North America. The new ovoid form Apollo tank was released in 2011 and at $700 the tank is unexpectedly affordable.

“We’re aiming to replace the macro-bin,” said the firm’s owner John Smeaton. The egg shape concentrates the cap during fermentation for deeper immersion and easier punchdown, and the mouth is easily sealed against fruit flies and oxygen, permitting sanitary conditions for extended maceration. The cornerless design appears easy to clean and sterilize. Half-round supports that rotate on the axis of the tank’s center of gravity facilitate dumping pomace with a forklift.

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