AMPHORAE - These handmade, terra-cotta vessels allow our Ravens Cabernet Sauvignon & Serpents Sémillon to show their characters without any oak influence. Oak barrels let wine breathe and concentrate through their porosity; they lend tannins that are key in the structure of a wine; they also add many flavor comonents - so much so that the same wine aged in separate barrels becomes two different wines. The cooperages one chooses to work with greatly impacts what is finally bottled.
When Altelier Centre France, one of our coopers (whose lifeblood is French oak) proposed being the first in Napa to work with these amphorae, we were intriued on several counts - primarily by the possibility of experiencing wine from our vineyard without any oak shading, but also by the opportunity to make wine as it had been for thousands of years, before the advent of barrels.
The clay amphorae come from a Tuscan manufacturer, Manetti Gusmano & Figli, that has been working with terra-cotta for eight generations (with the historic credentials of having make the roof tiles for Brunelleshi's Duomo in Florence). The clay itself is sourced from an Etruscan quarry. Each vessel is handmade by only two artisans in a process that lasts months. More porous than wood or concrete, the amphorae allow for a deep concentration of the wine, while maintaining a beautiful freshness.
It also adds a tannic structure different that oak and an enhanced minerality. And just as oak from different forests have their particularities, so does clay composition vary depending on where it is sourced. Wines created in clay have a purity and brightness unachievable with oak. Their remarkably vivid character seems to vibrate in the glass.