A growing wine trend is hitting Eastern Washington. Columbia Crest Winery in Paterson is using huge concrete vessels to ferment and age their wines.
Wines have been made in concrete for centuries. Winemakers then moved to stainless steel. Now the concrete trend in back, with different shapes.
The containers shaped like eggs, tulips and pyramids hold more than 500 gallons of wine.
"It keeps the purity of the fruit and as winemakers, that's all you want to do. You want to represent what's unique about the place where you grow your grapes," said winemaker Juan Munoz-Oca.
Munoz-Oca has been head winemaker at Columbia Crest since 2010. He began experimenting with the trend eight years ago. In the last three years, the winery has run with the trend.
"You have the same amount of oxygen going through the vessel and allowing textural development, but you don't have any aromas that will mask what makes those wines unique," said Munoz-Oca.
They now have about 30 eggs, tulips and pyramids, each costing about $17,000. Most of them are imported from France.
Munoz-Oca said about 20 percent of their reserve wines go into concrete.
By putting the wine in the concrete container, the wine loses the vanilla, carmel sweetness the Oak barrels bring.
"Consumers are noticing the trend to maybe stay a little bit more away from Oak and the Okie flavors that we've been used to in the 90s and 2000's and most of the wines made in America," said Munoz-Oca.
Each shape is specific to a different wine to help keep the flavor of the grapes.
"Let's say Chardonnay. The solids produced during fermentation are really desirable. You want them in touch with the wine and the egg shape of the vessel keeps those solids floating and in touch with the wine," said Munoz-Oca.
For red wines, the pyramid shape keeps the skins from floating to the top.
"You get a passive extraction without you having to move the wine," explained Munoz-Oca.
The concrete helps focus on the flavor of the fruit, highlighting the characteristics created by the vineyard they're grown on.
Munoz-Oca said they will soon start using concrete fermentation for the wines customers see in the grocery store.
"It's a trend that I think is here to stay," said Munoz-Oca.