Consider The Egg

The average person accepts many occurrences, events, and items that defy explanation. We can accept that we are unique in this universe, that life exists for some reason only on our planet – and this in itself defies explanation. Evidently there are elements at work that we do not fully understand or perhaps do not require our scrutiny. Because I will be dealing with topics concerning Biodynamic, natural, and avant-garde wine production in coming articles, I am inspired to highlight a tool that sounds odd at first blush, but is actually not.

Many Biodynamic and natural producers have embraced the egg. That is, an egg-shaped fermentation and storage vessel, which can be as small as 6 hectoliters (about 144 gallons) and up to 30 hectoliters (just over 720 gallons). This is a new shape in contemporary winemaking. The first egg arose from a 2001 collaboration between wine-vessel producer Marc Nomblot and famed wine producer Marc Chapoutier. One might initially assume that there must be some connection to the womb: a natural organic shape like an egg must influence the wine inside in some manner we don’t fully understand. These gentlemen were more empirical about their approach, however. In fact, the egg shape has a connection to ancient Greece, and the mold is constructed to Pythagoras’s golden ratio, or phi (): the ratio of the sum of the quantities to the larger quantity is equal to the ratio of the larger quantity to the smaller one. This is, according to Delia Viader, a celebrated producer in California, the “most perfect shape in physics.” The leap of faith happens when you realize that this very organic shape actually does yield wines with crisp balance and a softer, more plush texture. Yum.

Those who demand explanations and empirical details will offer other facts, of course: that the concrete material from which these egg-shaped containers are made will prevent too much evaporation; that the temperature fluctuation is moderated by this mix of crushed stone, rock, and sand, held together by cement; that the walls are porous enough to permit an even, natural micro-oxygenation, in which minute amounts of oxygen enter the wine, allowing for a softer, more plush texture. The shape and thickness of the walls also offer continuous movement of liquid within the vessel, keeping temperatures stable from top to bottom – all very nice, but these facts all point to one thing: that the egg shape encourages a happy, balanced wine.

I am all for facts and figures; these details may lead egg-shaped vessels to be the wave of the future, for conventional as well as Biodynamic wines. I would rather embrace the romance of an intangible unknown. That the egg, its shape, the movement created inside, all support balance and maintain the life force we feel in Biodynamics – something we strive to achieve in every area of our lives.

The work at Meinklang in Austria is a great example of this pursuit of balance. Their concrete egg wine “Konkret” is a Biodynamically grown Sankt Laurent that incubated for 12 months before release. Angela and Werner Michlits have experimented with the egg shape, with great results (softer, more plush texture). This lovely wine symbolizes for me an embrace of the romantic intangible and, of course, a substance in perfect balance, thanks to the incredible egg.

Sankt Laurent “Konkret,” Meinklang 2009  
A darkly hued Sankt Laurent, deep with purple fruit and roughened stones leading to a core of dense blackberry fruit. An elegant and subtle wine perfect for gatherings over pâté, terrines, sausages, and eggplant. “Konkret” refers to a new method of vinification in 9-hectoliter concrete “eggs” (egg-shaped vessels). The extremely fine pores allow a controlled supply of oxygen to the wine. The wine, “incubated” in the egg for 12 months, ends up with a pure, straightforward, unadulterated character that can only be called “concrete.”

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