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How The Type and Size of a Wine Tank Can Impact the Wine

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Wine tanks bring together the fusion of artistry, science, and functionality. These pivotal vessels come in an array of sizes and shapes that each bring their distinct impact to the final product. From towering cylindrical tanks to elegant oak barrels, the diversity in design mirrors the intricate nuances of wine itself. 

In winemaking, tanks are used when it is time for the juice to ferment and age before being bottled. During the fermentation process, they ensure the yeast grows properly, oxygen is controlled, and they prolong the aging of the wine. But, just as with everything else in the world, not all fermentation tanks for wine are created equal. 

Depending on the type of tank being used for the fermentation process, the wine can be smoother, fuller, or fruitier in taste. Other purposes include clarifying and removing tannins, proteins, and other solids from the wine. Winemakers choose between three common vessels – stainless steel, concrete, and oak barrels – and each one brings different qualities to the wine’s profile.

Stainless Steel

The use of stainless steel wine tanks is the most popular choice for wine fermentation. These types of tanks stay closed when not in use so inert gas fills up any space in the tank and displaces oxygen. Stainless steel tanks also don’t impart any distinct flavors to the wine. If the winemaker has wines that need to stay cold while fermenting, stainless steel tanks are the best option due to their chilling capabilities.

Stainless steel tanks come in several capacities and styles. Closed-top tanks range in size from 396 to 2,641 gallons. But, depending on the vintner’s specific needs, they might choose a tank as small as 250 gallons or as large as 8,000 gallons. Experts explain that fermentation tanks tend to be between 450 and 2,500 gallons while storage tanks are likely to be in the 250 to 1,000-gallon range.

At Aurora Cellars, our tank program is made up of mostly 1,500-gallon white fermenters. 

Concrete Tanks

Concrete tanks have started to become popular among several wineries across the country. These tanks come in various shapes including square, rectangular, or egg-shaped.  Recently, Aurora Cellars has added 14, 240-gallon concrete tanks to our cellar program, which were produced by Sonoma Cast Stone Concrete Wine Tanks.  At Sonoma, the styles of concrete tanks can range anywhere from 240 gallons to 1,440 gallons.

Depending on what style of concrete tank the vintner is using, it can either be left open or locked tight to prevent oxygen from reaching the wine. Unlike stainless steel, concrete tanks impart a neutral flavor but can also provide minerality to the wine.

Oak Barrels

If the vintner chooses to use an oak vessel, which is very common for red wine production, they are allowing a more gradual flow of oxygen into the wine. Because of this, the wine coming from these vessels has softer tannins. Depending on the amount of toast on the oak barrel, the wine’s final flavors can be affected.

Oak barrels can vary in size from as small as 11 gallons to as big as 250 gallons. Each size holds a different purpose depending on what the winemaker’s needs are.

From the classic oak barrels that impart subtle flavors to the colossal stainless steel tanks accommodating large-scale production, each vessel plays a crucial role in shaping the final character of the wine within. Whether it’s the artistry of smaller tanks allowing for meticulous craftsmanship or the efficiency of larger tanks meeting the demands of a growing market, the spectrum of choices reflects the dynamic nature of winemaking.

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