Handcrafted Wine Amphorae
The “Amphorae Project” began as an attempt to marry my two passions–making wine and making art. Drawing inspiration from Elizabetta Foradori of Italy, I began experimenting with producing wine in amphora in 2013. Developing a terra cotta clay body that would work for making wine involved consulting a chemist. The clay closest to Oregon turned out to come from the delta near Sacramento, California.
I began making a series of small one-liter vessels that I fired to a multitude of different temperatures. After the course of a couple of months I was able to determine the most appropriate temperature for firing. When the vessels are fired too hot they become vitrified and are non-porous.
Constructing amphorae that had enough volume to make a quantity of wine that would work commercially was the next challenge. The first vessels I constructed were about 60 gallons. When filled and then pressed that volume did not work with other common volumes in the winery. The next set of vessels I constructed were in the 90-gallon range–when pressed those at 90 gallons yield about 60 gallons of wine –the equivalent of a barrel. Scaling the amphorae beyond the 90-gallon range required the development of some very specialized equipment including a super powerful potter’s wheel and a massive custom-constructed kiln.
The largest amphorae I have produced are now in the 200-gallon range, but I am hoping to reach 300 gallons in the next batch of production. I constructed three distinct shapes for fermentation and aging bases on the intended outcome. The amphorae form with the conical bottom, the qevri form more bulbous and round originating in the Republic of Georgia and an egg form with kinetic qualities.
Each amphora takes about three weeks to construct. The largest vessels consume about 900 pounds of clay. They need two to three months to dry and require a 60-hour firing.
The amphorae are anchored to pallets to be moved around in the winery with a pallet jack or fork lift and can be tipped after draining to press using a fork lift.
The terra cotta amphorae are incredible insulators. The fermentation in amphorae has been much cooler and more prolonged compared to my conventional fermentation vessels. Fermenting in amphorae I rarely exceed 22 or 23 degree Celcius. Primary fermentation takes in the neighborhood of three weeks to a month for completion. Largely because of the cool and prolonged fermentation the wines coming from amphorae are bright, high toned and very compelling. Aging wines in the vessels has also yielded some incredibly interesting results. There is a common textural component that I would liken to dusty brick. There exists an iron-driven earth tone regardless of varietal.
The A.D. Beckham Amphora wines are fermented with native yeasts, no commercial inoculation and are unfined and unfiltered. I have made two vintages in my amphorae thus far: a skin-fermented pinot Gris- 30-45 days on skins, Malbec and our Estate Pinot noir. The 2013 vintage is sold out at our Tasting Room. A small amount may be found at a few local retailers and restaurants. The 2014 vintage will yield about 450 cases of amphorae fermented and aged wines with the first wine released summer of 2015.
Thank you for your interest,
Watch the Making of Amphorae