French oak egg, golden eggs, pushing the boundaries of winemaking

Last updated 05:00 30/04/2017

Winemaker Tony Bish imported an oak egg from France which will be used to make chardonnay.

Bish looks into the oak egg, which will be the centre piece at his new winery.
Bish tastes wine from his golden, concrete eggs. They will sit to one side of the oak egg in the new purpose-built winery.
One of the most well-known art deco buildings in Napier will soon be home to a winery, which will display the oak egg surrounded by golden eggs.

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In a historic art deco building in Napier sits an egg.

But it's not just any egg – it's a large, wooden one, which sits under a spotlight in a dimly lit room.

It's New Zealand's first oak egg, and is one of only about 10 in the world. It is being used to push the boundaries of winemaking.

The egg's real name is Taransaud Ovum and it hails from France. Winemaker Tony Bish paid upwards of $55,000 for it, but he says it will be worth every penny.

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The egg processes wine in the same way an oak barrel does, except it stirs itself – eliminating the need for human intervention.

One of the first wineries to use the oak egg was famous Champagne house Drappier.

"So it's pretty special," Bish said.

Bish's love for using egg-shaped equipment for wine came from a trip to South America.

While he was there, he noticed a lot of wineries were using small concrete eggs to process wine, in addition to tanks and barrels.

However, because each egg weighed 2.2 tonnes, the cost to ship them to New Zealand was "huge", he said.

So Bish teamed up with a concrete firm in Hastings - NZ Tanks - and they began making their own.

Bish owns three. He calls them his golden eggs.

After using those for a few years, Bish wanted to explore more innovative ways to make wine. And that's where the oak egg came in.

He imported the egg from France for upwards of $55,000.

Before its arrival, he leased space in the former National Tobacco building to build an urban winery and cellar door, which will open in September.

Bish wanted the oak egg to be a centrepiece, as it was "a piece of art", he said.

"When you walk into the barrel room, there'll be a huge glass window, and the first thing you do is you see into the gorgeous black room with these dramatic eggs – the wooden one at the back and the concrete ones on one side...

"Stainless steel ain't sexy .... The whole idea is that it is a temple to chardonnay."

Bish believed he was the only one in New Zealand who had an egg, for two reasons: Price and conservatism.

"New Zealand is not that fast at adopting new technology – we are a bit conservative, so I think there is a bit of conservatism and waiting for someone else to do it first to see how it goes.

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"But for me, innovation is the key to moving forward...

"[However], price is also a deterrent for a lot of people – unless you've got a cellar door and a marketing strategy to get value out of it, then they are an expensive toy," he said.

The oak egg, which arrived in early March, holds enough wine to fill 2400 bottles of wine.

The juice will remain in the egg for one year before it is taken out to finish off, then bottle.

The first release will be hit the shelves on November 2018. The wine will be sold for a high price - somewhere around the $150 mark, Bish said.

Bish believed chardonnay was making a comeback, he said.

"Chardonnay has had its fashionable trend and it's been in the doldrums and then it's coming back in the last couple of years quite strongly, but I think the consumer is going to come back to a more interesting styles and different styles

"They are not going to be drinking the styles they were back in the 80s and 90s, so I think we've got to re-invent chardonnay as a category - that's my thinking. We need to dare to be different."

As for the concrete eggs, Bish planned to start exporting them to Australia, as well as ramp up sales in the New Zealand market, he said.

"This is all innovation. We are selling concrete eggs now because it cost us so much to develop the moulds and the technology that we're selling to other winemakers and that's going to be an ongoing, sideline business.

"We can be very competitive domestically because freight is not that bad," Bish said.

"Also the Australian market is there for us, because there is no one making them there."

- Stuff


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